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Shot Down Behind Enemy Lines

My Uncle Jim Melville (the husband of my fathers sister, Barbara Shawcross) was shot down during World War II. He kept notes of the experience.

I first read this diary when visiting his daughter Helen when she and her family were working for a year in Buckhannon West Virginia. 

In October 2004, while visiting Barbara (now 81) in Hale Cheshire, his youngest daughter Patricia Marsden (Trish) stopped by and in the course of our conversation I said I would like to get a copy of the diary to put on my web page to go along with my father (Kenneth's) war letters since the two young men were both oveseas at the same time, Dad in India and Jim in Europe.

Trish told me she had made a transcript of his diary and would send it to me.  Below is her email to me followed by the transcript.

John F. Shawcross

October 24, 2004

Barbara and Jim's wedding photo

Following the death of Barbara Melville in 2010 I found the photo below of Jim and Barbara on their wedding day and was also pleased to see that I made it into the photograph (the little boy holding hands with my Grandfather and Jim Melville the bridegroom). 
John Shawcross December 10, 2010


Hi John;

Enclosed is Dad's diary, it is as accurate as I can copy from his notes. Hope it is ok. Great to see you both last week, and I hope the wedding was good. Lots of love from your little cousin,



16TH June. Took off from vis at 5.0.a.m. Flew north to Prijidor. Sighted 2 engines with steam up, in the station. Peeled off and went down on 1st engine. Hit by 20mm just after I opened fire. Port Aileron useless had to fly with full starboard aileron. Trim tabs useless and elevators damaged. Oil pressure nil. Could not gain altitude – jettisoned hood, quite a struggle, fumes and oil in cockpit, propeller stopped. Turned port and force landed in valley N.W, sanski most.

Hit ground very hard but stayed right way up. Cut head on sight and knees on panel- felt groggy but got out ok. Harry and rest of boys flew over and saw me wave. Farmer [partisan] came out of nearby cottage followed by many other people. Took me to cottage and gave me milk. Bandaged my head with first aid kit. Returned to Spitfire and helped partisans to take out ammunition, guns and wireless. Would not let me burn machine.

Two partisans took me South to small party in hills, had some cherries on route. Taken by cart to partisan headquarters, interrogated by type in French. Had my head dressed again looks pretty awful. Had a meal before leaving for another Headquarters at 14: 45. Travelled along lanes and pathways over the hills. Had 2 partisans as guides. I rode on horseback most of the way. Had another meal at 19.18hrs. Two Doctors attended to my head at partisan hospital. Felt pretty sick when they had finished. Gave me bed and food. Slept pretty well. From conversation in French and English I gathered that there were about 20 Americans near here.

17th June. Rose at 8,30 and had breakfast. Cigarettes very hard to get, had to ration myself. The Americans arrived at mid day to see me. Had all our meals together mainly soup, rice, milk and bread. We chatted most of the day, didn’t go out as weather wasn’t good. The Americans stayed overnight.

18th June. Americans suffering from lice and fleas, so far I’ve escaped. They have been here 21 days. Had breakfast of milk and bread. Chatted till dinnertime, soup with meat and lots of black bread. Americans left for their hideout shortly after, I spent the afternoon by myself. Weather pretty bad, very heavy rain. Hd my head dressed this morning. Little girl called Maritza looks after me.

The Doctor is very pleasant, we had some interesting talks in French. The people are very poor and primitive but have hearts of gold, they do their best to please. Sometimes a group comes into the room whilst I am alone and just watches.

19th June. Rose at 8,30, bread milk. Rain stopped but still overcast. News from home good according to radio. Germans retreating from here too. Maritza washed out room this morning. Most of the men here are sick, some horrible looking cases. Person rolled in this afternoon and started speaking perfect English, turned out to be the American Doctor who lives with the partisans. We had quite a long chat, he explained the partisans way of life and other points regarding Cheknics and Ustachia. Bed at 9.30, slept like a log.

20th June. Rose at 8.30 and had breakfast, still overcast. Had my head re-bandaged. The blood always dries very hard but it is sore pulling off the old bandages. A Russian Officer visited me this afternoon. Told me there were 8 British Officers 4 hours march away.

21st June. Slight improvement in weather, don’t know how I am going to hold out a month with no cigarettes. Walked to the wrecked Liberator this morning, got back before the rain started. Had a good chat with the Dr during and after lunch, feel much happier after chatting with him. In the comparison between his outlook and mine I guess I am very lucky and should not mind waiting for so long before I am taken back to Italy.

The Dr is a good kind man, must take a lot of guts to put up with this sort of life after being educated and brought up in Zagreb. Wish I could repay him in some way. The people here in Bosnia are very primitive, unbelievable so, yet they are kind and thoughtful and do everything to help me. Maritza looks after me like a mother, she’s only 14.

Escorted the Dr on his rounds to various sections of the Hospital, some horrible sights. About 40 recently liberated from an Italian prison camp, just skeletons. Helped to pass away the time. Bed after evening meal had some coffee, chatted till 1 am about aircraft and aero engines. Lots of fun watching Dr doing inoculations.

22nd June. Rose at 8.00 weather still dull. Maritza has a moan this morning as her arm is sore after being inoculated. Had 2 eggs for breakfast. Head bandaged, looking better. The news from radio London is good on all fronts. The weather brightened up a bit but still had odd shower. The Dr had a friend in for a spot of coffee this afternoon, left to do his rounds shortly afterwards. It’s pretty tiresome sitting with nothing to do, no smokes either. Have good thinks sometimes.

One of the cooks has gone down with Typhus today, she’s lying on a mattress outside the bedroom door, the pigs keep nosing round her from time to time-what a hell. A Major from the Division came in during the evening and wanted to know all about me.

23rd June. Mothers birthday. Rose at 9.00 Weather still dull. The Commosaire came after breakfast, wanted his pants and jacket pressed as he had been deloused. Weather brightened up considerably during the morning, breeze blowing. Had a long chat to the Dr after dinner. At 5pm I escorted him on his rounds. Got a drink Shivovicha something like whiskey at a farmhouse near one section of the Hospital. Arrived back at 8pm, had supper of to bed soon afterwards. Dr thinks that leaving by plane is all wrong, says the Yanks and I will likely have to walk.

24th June. Bread and milk for breakfast. Pouring with rain again. During the morning 2 friends of the Dr came in for a chat and a spot of coffee, stayed for tiffin. Dr explained Jugland lingo and gave me some verbs to learn, had a chat whilst we were about it. Got some tobacco[wacca] Had my head bandaged, looking much better. Dr went on his rounds about 6pm. Rained all day pretty cold and miserable. Had a spot of fun talking to Maritza and Dusanka. Dr wasn’t feeling too well so we got off to sleep early.

Woke early and felt itchy, so started to hunt for lice etc. Found one big one and lots of eggs. Had a good wash after breakfast. Got a new shirt and sent my old one to be decontaminated. The Major came in during the morning and chatted to the Dr. This is Sunday so everyone is dressed up- deloused themselves this morning. My bandage came off during the night so had my head dressed first thing- looking ok. Big improvement in the weather, sunny although quite a lot of cloud. Dr still sick, hasn’t eaten anything today. Had my 2nd typhus injection.

26th June. Wizard, sunny no clouds. Had intended visiting the Yanks but rather late after I had washed and shaved. 2 came to see me at 11.30 [Cotterill and Clarke] They stayed to dinner. Short walk in the afternoon, sat on the hillside and chatted. Popsey brought me some flowers Got my bandage off and am now wearing a small plaster. Had the bed deloused and tonight my shirt and pants will be treated. Dr isn’t taking any risks with me. He’s a lot better today, practically normal. Major Dr examined him this morning. If the weather keeps up I’ll guess we’ll be out of here pretty soon. The commisaire came in and chatted to the Dr most of the evening.

27th June. Rose at 8.30 got cleaned up and had a new plaster put on my head. Maritza and I left shortly after 10am for the American camp. Took us 1-1/2 hours. Weather good so enjoyed the walk. The hospital were the Americans are is in a wood, impossible to see from the air. The 3 Yanks were part of a Liberator crew who baled out when their machine was set on fire by incendiaries from 109’s. They were all severely burned about the face. The Gunner is practically ok. The 2nd pilot still has hands in bandages. The 3rd is really an awful mess. He was having his head and hands dressed when I arrived. His whole face is raw flesh and his hands are black and charred. Turned me sick to look at him, must have been suffering during the months he’s been here. The boys say he can’t stand much more. Several other Yanks came up, and after dinner we sat outside and chatted. Left at 5.30pm and arrived back at my place at 7.00pm. The Yanks say the drome is finished and that we will be out of here shortly. Had a long chat with the Dr after supper. Went to bed shortly after 1am

28th June. Very humid day although cloudy. Most of the men and women have gone to the hospital I visited yesterday, as this is a festival day and a dance is being held there. My stomach is not it’s usual self today. Escorted the Dr on his rounds. Ate a whole shoulder of lamb during the afternoon, also some cheese from sheep’s milk.

29th June. Very hot day, stomach still out of order. Lay about most of the day. Went for a walk in the afternoon, came across Maritza and 2 other girls doing the {dobbie}down by the river- stayed and watched them. Clothes take a beating on washing day here. Got off to bed fairly early.

30th June. Another hot day, clouded over about 6pm, showers during the evening. Had a bath in the river during the afternoon. Cut some tobacco for the Dr as he was busy with some medical board. Long chat with him at night mostly about cars and planes. Bed at 1am.

1st July. Hot again. Watched people making shoes during the morning. Scrounged some tobacco. The shoe-maker promised to make me a pair. Phone call from a person at the British Mission. Told me there was some cigarettes at the other hospital, also he would probably move me out soon.. Felt pretty good after this news.

2nd July. Walked over to the American hide out in the morning. The guide took me to the wrong hospital so I didn’t get my cigs. Stayed until 5pm and chatted to the boys.They are now kitted out with battle dress and boots. Got some boots and slacks. Dance at our place when I got back. Short walk with the Dr.

3rd July. Walked over to the hospital with Maritza. The Yank who was badly burned has now developed pneumonia. Other two are coming on ok. Got my cigarettes. Movement in the balance. Dr came over about 5.30pm so I stayed until about 8.30 and walked back with him also Maritza and Slavka. Long talk at night with Dr, changed my boots as the old pair hurt my ankles.

4th July. Still hot. Did nothing all day. Rain afternoon and night.

5th July. Felt itchy all day- sore throat and slight fever. Dr fixed me up with pills. Had an injection for my throat. Slept nearly all day. Bed early at night. New Dr arrived- a friend of the Dr’s. Rained most of the day.

6th July. Dull but no rain, stayed around during the morning, walk at night with the Dr, played chess with some of the boys. Got a book[ English/ yugoslavian] from the Major Dr. Maritza moved to another hospital today. A new girl now looks after me.

7th July. Dull but no rain. Stayed around during the morning, walked with the Dr on his rounds in the afternoon. Afterwards walked to crashed Liberator with Dr and Commodore. Got back at 9.30pm. Long chat with Dr at night.

8th July. Good day, stayed around the hospital. Tired went to bed early.

9th July. Good day rain in the evening. Big dance 2 hours walk away, most of the people went along. Walked around with the Dr to the hospitals. Phoned British Mission in the afternoon. Everything keyed up should be moving soon.

10th July. Rained off and on all day. Cotterill and another came over and brought me some cigarettes and canned goods. Chatted all afternoon, had some good laughs with the Dr. Walked around with him after the boys had gone. Got a bit wet.

11th July. Sunny during the morning, rain afterwards. Dr has a sore hand. Spent 3hrs grinding coffee after dinner. Walked over to the American colony
got some soap. Heavy rain on the way back so had a bath and changed.

12th July. Late in rising. Dr came in about 10am and told me I was leaving for Palanka as soon as possible. Collected all my kit and had something to eat before hitting the road. Met several Yanks at Palanka. Had some tea. Left at 3.30pm good walking till we struck the hills. Very wet roads like rivers. Managed to make the Mission but it was a tough day. Several Americans look pretty sick. Had some tea and changed clothes and made our beds on the hard floors with parachutes.

13th July. Didn’t sleep well, felt very tired. Coffee and bread for breakfast. Walked down the valley with some of the boys, had a shower under a waterfall, pretty cold. Sagged on the grass in the afternoon. Major asked me down to dinner, so walked to the Mission at about 5pm. A General arrived so he gave the dinner instead. Late in finishing had to walk back up the hill in the dark. The guide got lost and nearly took us up a vertical slope. Off to bed as soon as I got back. Heard that Delaney was shot down over here somewhere.

14th July. Stayed at the Mission all day. Had breakfast there. Good day, rain at night. Got everything ready for the morning.

15th July. Walked from the Mission to Libnik. Very wet all day, hard walking. My feet are sore, arrived at dusk, stayed around till near 11pm Had to cross an icy cold river, got half way on foot and then got a horse the rest of the way. Didn’t eat anything, couldn’t find my kit so went to sleep near the fire in shirt and pants at 1am.

16th July. Rose at 4.30am, frozen, lit fire and walked to where kit was dumped. Scrounged some hot milk for breakfast. Dinner at 11am very warm, startrd out at 12.30pm and walked till about 11.30pm. Crossed high range in wooda very tough going. Slept night at little village on hillside.

17th July. Started at 9.30am, walked to Glamoc, very wet. Got meal in village. At 10.30am started out for Drome, still pouring. Walked till 2pm no better, went back to village and found place to sleep.

18th July. Bed at 3am- up again at 4am. Jerries about 10 kilos away. Walked till 11am, non stop. Everyone very tired. Refreshed after our meal[bully and biscuits]. Walked to American Mission, arrived at 7.30pm. Slept on the deck under parachute tents.

19th July. Rose about 8am, wizard breakfast, bacon and dried eggs. Had hair cut and first shave since we started the walk. Lazed around all day. Message regarding our position sent to the mainland.

20th July. Hung around the camp all day- no reply on the radio. Our position pretty ropey as Jerry has advanced along the valley we followed and is now only 13 kilometres away from the American Mission. Blue Division on other side also on the move.

21st July. Position still in the balance, everyone is pretty jumpy, feel sure that several of the boys couldn’t make another forward march. Everyone went to collect wild strawberries. “pochret” sent on radio[ means the mission including us may have to move at a moment’s notice.] Sing-song around the fire at night. Message came that Kites[ 6 DC.3’S] would arrive tomorrow.

22nd July. Up pretty early. Jerry hasn’t moved on again. Word on radio at 10.50am that Kites would be over at 11am. The boys who couldn’t walk were driven down to the Drome, most of us ran all the way. Dc’s arrived ok. Split escort, saw some 32 squadron Kites. Partisan wounded and ourselves taken off. Airborne at 11.30am. Dicey trip did I perspire- got some flax in the wings when the guns opened up south of Denis. Landed at Bari at 1pm. Taken to American General Hospital to be deloused, fed reclothed and despatched to our units.

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