The Welwyn Garden City RAF pilot and his great Crete escape

Dudley Sandry Garton Honor

Dudley Sandry Garton Honor standing next to a Hawker Hurricane in Egypt, not long after his escape from Crete. - Credit: Archant

In mid-1941, an RAF pilot from Welwyn Garden City was shot down over the island of Crete. What followed was a daring escape from deep behind enemy lines.

Dudley Sandry Garton Honor’s war started in May 1940, when he and 88 Squadron flew their Fairey Battle light bombers against the German forces advancing through France.

Honor – who settled in Attimore Road before the conflict – was used to far flung corners of the world, having been born to British parents in Buenos Aries, Argentina in 1913, while the Second World War would take him to Africa and the Middle East.

He would become one of the few in the summer of 1940, flying Hawker Hurricane’s during the Battle of Britain with 145 Squadron, even crash landing his aircraft in Sussex after a long-running clash with a Messerschmitt 109.

Dudley Sandry Garton Honor

Honor's escape from Crete was called a 'million in one chance' by the pilot that picked him up. - Credit: Archant

Late 1940 saw him sent to the Middle East before flying his Hurricane across the desert and over Nigeria, Chad and Sudan to Egypt, where he joined 274 Squadron as a flight commander.

It was here that he saw plenty of action, shooting down an enemy fighter over Libya and scoring another kill during Operation Battleaxe, a British army offensive to raise the siege of Tobruk.

Then, Honor and his squadron were sent to Crete in May 1941 as part of efforts to halt the German invasion of the island.

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On May 25, he and another pilot were tasked with taking their Hurricanes and attacking the German-held airfield at Maleme.

Approaching the target, he saw Italian and German transport aircraft preparing to land.

Ignoring heavy fire, he attacked and within a few minutes he had shot down two of the transports, but as he broke away from the airfield, German fighters followed.

Hawker Hurricane

Honor flew Hawker Hurricanes throughout the Second World War. - Credit: Imperial War Museum

His aircraft was badly damaged and became difficult to control, but, with help from the rugged and reliable Hurricane, he somehow managed to evade further attacks before his engine stopped.

He was forced to ditch into the sea, but when his aircraft hit the water, the cockpit was still closed and he sank 40ft before he was able to escape.

He was reported missing, but what followed was a daring escape from deep behind enemy lines.

Honor recalled the moments after his crash landing, saying: “I was battered by waves for four hours trying to reach the shore and it took an hour just to do the last 20 yards. I drifted into a cave, got astride a rock, where I spent a freezing night.”

After drying out his wet clothes that he had taken off during his efforts to reach the shore, he ventured south, spending a night in a church and another night in a goatherders hut before he stumbled upon a small village.

He was met by some children who led him to a nearby church, where the padre gave him food, water, a pair of trousers and told him of another British pilot who had been shot down that day and survived.

It turned out to be a sergeant from his own flight.

The pair made a hasty retreat when villagers began to discuss turning the RAF pair in, with six people having already been shot by Axis forces for supposedly withholding information.

Battle of Crete

German paratroopers landing at the Battle of Crete in 1941. - Credit: Arthur Conry/Wikimedia Commons

Both pilots decided to try and find a way through enemy lines, and at dusk they came across enemy aircraft attacking an airfield.

Soon after, an aircraft approached. It turned out to be an RAF Short Sunderland flying boat. Honor and his fellow pilot franticly began using their torches to signal ‘RAF here, RAF here’, and despite the odds, they were spotted by the aircraft, something the Sunderland pilot would later describe as 'a million to one chance'.

Honor was picked up and returned to his Hurricane squadron, earning a bar for his Distinguished Flying Cross.

“This officer has displayed great skill in action against the enemy especially during recent operations over Maleme where he destroyed two enemy aircraft,” a report into his actions read.

“Though subsequently forced to alight on the sea he succeeded in evading the enemy and at the end of six days re-joined his unit after a perilous journey. He has destroyed a total of nine enemy aircraft.”

The rest of the Second World War would see Honor made wing commander of 258 Wing in operations over the desert, going on to serve in Malta and Sicily before returning to England in 1944.

Post-war, he would work for the military and civil Air Attaché across South America and manage Air Canada in the region well into the 1960s, before he and his second wife, Mary, moved to Spain in 1973, where they started to grow lettuces.

They returned to the UK in 1990, before Dudley Sandy Garton Honor passed away on Boxing Day 2007, aged 94, a distinguished war hero, remembered for his escapades in the air and his daring Crete escape.