Eddie Warmington: The Story of the Man with 9 Lives
So many of the team at Armourgeddon and the visitors we receive into the museum have a war story to tell. We always enjoy listening and never tire of the remarkable stories of incredible resilience that so underpin so many of the stories.
Roger Warmington has appeared in our blogs before, but this time, we are re-telling the story of his father’s 9-lives.
Edwin John Warmington, Eddie, was born in 1920 to parents who dreamed big! By the time Eddie was the older brother to two other boys, the decision had been taken to cross the Atlantic and make a home in the USA. Schooled across Chicago, Illinois and then heading south to Texas, Eddie had quite the adventure in his formative years. Heading back to the UK as a teenager, he landed a role as the office clerk of the China Clay Company in his native Cornwall. Eddie met his future wife, Doreen, before successfully applying for a role in the RAF as Aircrew. Training took Eddie across the UK, but his first posting was to Canada to learn navigational skills as a part of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan. From Autumn 1940 to Spring 1941, Eddie was subjected to the Canadian winter whilst becoming a first-rate navigator.
In March 1944 Eddie and Doreen were married, but life in the RAF did not allow for a lengthy honeymoon or even much of a settling in period as they built a home together.
Navigating on the RAF Blenheim fleet during his first tour of duty, Eddie was operational on North Sea anti-shipping observations and near continent bombing raids. His skills were further engaged as a navigation instructor before commencing with further training to qualify as an elite Pathfinder Navigator. This role took Eddie aboard a 4-engined Lancaster Bomber, running pre-raids, marking targets with coloured flares through intricate navigational techniques. 16 successful raids, including preparation runs for the D-Day attacks, saw Eddie and RAF colleagues gain confidence that their war would soon be won.
The 17th operation was not quite as successful. Following the pain of heavy German losses on D-Day, and to further frustrate the land armies by removing vital supplies from the front-line troops, strategic targets were attacked. For Eddie’s crew, this was a railway marshaling yard near Nantes in Western France. Dropping through the cloud cover at only 1100 ft at 2am on the 12th June 1944, the Lancaster was faced with a direct hit by four AA shells in the rear of the aircraft. Following the pilot’s order to eject, Eddie parachuted to land on the edge of a vineyard in German-occupied France. Taking cover until daybreak, Eddie saw multiple German patrols searching for survivors. Escaping the fate of these patrols, Eddie was picked up by a local farming family who took him into their home, buried all evidence of his RAF paraphernalia and dressed him as one of them. He stayed to enjoy their hospitality for 8 days before being swept up by the French Resistance with a plan for repatriation back to the UK.
Moving across the Loire some 30-miles, to a forest hideout, the Resistance reunited Eddie with two other members of his flight crew and two US Air Force personnel who had been shot down from their B17 ‘Flying Fortress’ nearby.
In what resulted in a deadly mission, the German army found and raided the forest hideout, killing many of the young Resistance fighters, and capturing the Allied forces personnel, moving them as POWs to the infamous camp at Nantes Gaol- the regional Gestapo HQ.
Eddie told his story to that point when requested, but without evidence of his aircraft, no uniform or papers, and unable to confirm where he had been hiding prior to meeting with the Resistance, Eddie was labelled a spy and an organiser of terrorists- for the which the penalty was execution.
The following morning, 27 fellow prisoners were executed for their ‘crimes’. Eddie was held in a cell awaiting execution for 8 days, expecting his executioner every time the door was opened. However, escaping death yet again, on the 8thday, a Luftwaffe officer opened the door, believing that Eddie was a POW as opposed to a spy and Eddie was transported with a number of others through northern France to Germany and on to the Baltic coast at Barth, entering the Stalag Luft I POW camp on the 25thJuly 1944.
Living through the decrepit conditions of the camp until the final days of WWII, Eddie kept a scrapbook with recipes, poems, drawings and recollections of their time. With American troops advancing from the West and Russians from the East, on the first night of May, the German contingent disappeared without a trace and the troops of both East and West landed in the camp. The Russians arrived not only with food and plans for escape, but a Russian dance troop to entertain the POWs. With the route mapped toward the east, the POWs from the UK and USA were not exactly delighted, until the USAF engaged a mission to fly the troops in stripped out B17s from a local airfield back to their homelands. On the 14th May, Eddie arrived back at RAF Ford to a very warm welcome and a tea of white bread sandwiches! A night spent debriefing, followed by a train to RAF Cosford, and Eddie was free to return home in fresh uniform, granted six weeks of POW leave and ordered to bath and rest.
Using the time to take his wife on a delayed honeymoon to the Scilly Isles, Eddie and Doreen made life-long friends and found a holiday location they continued to enjoy.
In the years after, Eddie took his family back to the vineyard, found his hosts and dug up his parachute and uniform. Remarkable photos portray this story and are incredible memories for our Tank Instructor, Eddie’s son, Roger.
If you have a story you would like us to share, please get in touch. A short phone interview can lead to your story being shared. We are always delighted to receive items for our museum and are happy to curate items in order for their story to be told to our visitors.
In memory of Flight Lieutenant Edwin John Warmington 1920 to 2004.