29 October 1924 - 5 February 2004
Tribute by Frank Dell, former Chairman of the RAF Escaping Society
on the occasion of Bryan Morgan’s funeral on 19th February 2004
By way of introduction Diana has asked me to thank everybody here for coming to support her to-day and for the many kind messages she has received. Nadine Dumont (Dédée) had wished to be here representing the Comète Escape Line but sadly she is unwell. Diana particularly wished to thank the Reverend Bruce Lyons for conducting this service. As Chaplain of the RAF Escaping Society he has played an important part in many of our lives.
We all have our private reasons for remembering Bryan, but for my part I would like to tell you a little about how he came to be involved in our Society as the war shaped many of our destinies.
His story starts with the night of 3rd May 1944 when, aged 19, he was the rear gunner of a Lancaster bomber of 460 Squadron based at Binbrook, which was despatched with others to bomb a Panzer training camp at Mailly-le-Camp near Châlons-sur-Marne. Approaching the target the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft gunfire, the fuselage becoming immediately engulfed in flames.
Being in the tail he just had time to escape the inferno and jump for his life before the aircraft blew apart. Having landed safely by parachute he made his way across country until he came to a farmhouse to which he turned for help.
By a stroke of good fortune the door was opened by a man who proved to be of some importance in the local Resistance - the Maquis, who, recognising Bryan for what he was, took him in.
After a day or two he was taken to a series of locations where the Maquis were active and where shelter was found for him in the homes of ordinary but exceedingly brave people who, of course, faced the gravest of penalties should they be caught sheltering an airman.
This went on for nearly 4 months, towards the end of which Bryan became very ill and had to be nursed by the family he was with. However, by then General Patton's US Army had advanced to the vicinity of Châlons. The Maquis established contact with the leading troops and Bryan was carried through the front line on a stretcher to a US Field Hospital, and thence back to England. FREE AT LAST! As a postscript, only 3 of Bryan's crew of 7 survived. Bomber Command lost 45 aircraft that night.
Bryan never forgot the kindness he received from the people who sheltered him, for the great care taken of him when he was very ill, and the courage of such people faced with great dangers. He also had the highest regard for the men and women of the Maquis for their part in helping him and for their spirit and bravado in harassing the enemy as General Patton's front line advanced. You will shortly hear a piece of music which reflects his feelings for the men and women of the Resistance.
Throughout the war, an Intelligence Organisation named MI9 endeavoured to keep track of the men after being shot down. Where possible they would endeavour to channel such people down certain well defined escape lines, notably across France and over the Pyrenees into Spain, thence on to Gibraltar and home. Two such were the Pat O'Leary line and the Comète Line, both based in Brussels, but for Bryan, by August 1944 both these lines had been closed. At the end of the war MI9's records listed over 2,800 RAF men who were successful in returning to the UK.
In 1944 it was decided that an organisation be established to maintain contact with and provide support to these marvellous people in the Occupied Countries who, with such disregard for their own safety, had helped our men on their way home. Thus the RAF Escaping Society was born, not as an Old Boys Social Club but as a proper Charity with paid staff and serving RAF officers supporting the civilian members of the Executive Committee. All this is spelt out in some detail because for almost 60 years Bryan played a most consistent and supportive role in so much of the Society's activities.
Additionally it has long been a point of honour in October each year for the society to join the Survivors of the Comète escape line at their service of Commemoration at the Basilica in Brussels. I mention this in particular because the Reverend Bruce Lyons, our Anglican Chaplain conducting this service today, has for many years played a quite admirable part in what is essentially a most moving Catholic Mass. He has supported us on so many other occasions and I have never known Bryan miss one of these Commemorations.
Against this general background, 32 years ago Bryan had the good fortune to meet Diana. All would agree they made a wonderful team so that, apart from Bryan's work as a Committee member, the two of them jointly set up a shop stocking Escaping Society books and souvenirs of every kind. They were to be seen at their stall at the Biggin Hill Air show, the Royal Tournament, the RAF Tattoo and so on.
Together they also ran the Speaker's Panel which provided Escapers and Evaders with a good tale to tell and who could speak at functions up and down the country to draw attention to our work and thereby raise money.
The two of them, Bryan and Diana together over a period of years, raised many thousands of pounds for the Society! The Society closed officially in 1995 but through Bryan and Diana's determination and organisation an annual reunion still takes place and representatives still attend the Remembrance Mass in Brussels.
Most of us who share wartime experiences such as Bryan's emerged humbled by what we had gone through and the fine people we had met along the way. "How could we thank and repay these people adequately for the dangers they had faced and the sacrifices they made for us?”
I believe Bryan found a way by so devoting his life that people would say of him "HE, FOR ONE, DID NOT FORGET."
HE WAS A FINE MAN WITH GOOD VALUES AND WE WILL NOT FORGET HIM.
Rev Bruce Lyons' address for Bryan Morgan’s funeral, 19 February 2004
Whether friends, family, fellow-members of the RAF Escaping Society or other organizations, we have come to do three things. We are here to remember a lovely man; to pray for those who mourn, especially Diana, and we think of Bryan’s son Colin and granddaughters Joanne and Carolyn. And we think for a few brief moments about life and death.
As it was for many of the Escaping Society, being shot down near Châlons-sur-Marne, hiding, with its moments of terror, working with the Maquis until being overrun by the advancing invasion forces, all that was a defining moment in Bryan’s life. Was it a highlight or a low-point? I’m never quite sure which, but I’m certain that Bryan’s life was never quite the same afterwards. He had commitment to his helpers, four family generations now; commitment to the Society, all its members and helpers; serving on the committee for so many years. He was an organizer and graced all his friendships with a keen sense of humour.
But we thought of him as younger that he was. ‘Bryan, eighty in October? Never!’ It was that black hair that did it. We remember Bryan with affection, and Diana is going to miss him dreadfully. In this service and in the days to come she needs our prayers, that she may know God’s support and strength for each day, comfort when the loneliness is too much. Diana will never forget, will never think without some sadness, but there will also be smiles and laughter as she thinks of the good times. Will you continue to remember her in your prayers. God strengthen her in the rebuilding.
And God does. This reading from St. John’s gospel. Jesus was talking to his followers, the evening before he was taken out to be crucified. The arrest was only hours away. And he was reassuring them about the certainty of heaven … of eternal life. He said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
These are such significant words for us, here today. Jesus was promising these disciples, who were beginning to feel dreadfully threatened and confused and alone, that he was the Way to eternal life. In him was all the Truth about heaven. Indeed, in him is Life itself. It is as we take hold of Jesus in our minds, and in our determination, that we begin to walk the Way, learn the Truth and grasp the fullness of eternal Life.
I say the fullness of eternal life, because there is nothing wishy-washy about the Christian life. It is as full as any escaper knew. Jesus had already said to his followers, “I have come so that you may have life, life in all its fullness.” So may we remember with affection and gratitude for Bryan’s life. May we continue to pray for all those who mourn his death. And may we have confidence in God’s promises of full, vibrant, exciting life for all those who believe in him and accept him.
The Funeral Music was:
Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring
I vow to thee my Country - hymn
Le Chant des Partisans
RAF March Past
If you have an appreciation of Bryan or anecdote involving him,
that you would like his family to have, please contact the editor.
update 29 April 2004
Royal Air Forces Escaping Society 1945-95 website