Studiegroep Luchtoorlog 1939-1945

Evaders


Evader chart: E0482
SGLO Date crash Aircraft
T3651 07-05-44 B-17 Flying Fortress
MilRank First Name(s) Name
T/Sgt. James Reece Wilson
Milregnr. Nationality Born
17071288 American Marshalltown, Marshall County, Iowa, USA, 30 Jun 1924
Returned Y/N Evader Fate Date Captured/Liberated Place Captured/Liberated Escape Line
Yes EVD 7 Mar 45 Zwijndrecht -
Evader Story
						T/Sgt. James Reece (Jim) Wilson was the engineer of B-17 Flying Fortress 42-38161 'Sara Jane'. On the approach to their target Berlin on May 7, 1944, the crew was confronted with 'serious engine trouble'. The propeller of the nr. 4 engine came off, damaging the nr. 3 engine and losing speed and height, the Fortress had to leave the formation. Near Heerenveen, four crew members including Tyson bailed out. Five men remained aboard and they were taken prisoner after the pilot had made a wheels-up landing just north of Nijelamer.

Wilson descended near Oldeholtwolde and soon after his landing met fellow crew members 2/Lt. Roy M. Bistline (E0479), the navigator, and 2/Lt. Walter J. Tyson (E0481), the bombardier. Quite some Dutchmen had seen their descent and gathered curiously around the Americans while they were looking at their escape map to find out where to go. Seventeen-year-old Jacob Heida accosted them and then urged them to leave in a hurry as the Germans were nearby. When they asked where to go, Jacob told them to follow him. He took the three airmen to the Hartkamp family in Oldeholtwolde where they stayed for half an hour. They were then hidden in a small underbrush near the farm and told to wait to be picked up that night. Meanwhile German patrols were searching the area for the downed airmen. That night, Jacob Heida and his brother Jaap collected the three airmen from their temporary hide-out and guided them through the fields to the Tjonger. F. v/d Bosch from Mildam was waiting there with a rowing boat and took them across this stream. On the other bank, Jacob and Jaap took the three airmen to a large dug-out in the vicinity of their father's farm.

The next day, the three Americans were collected by resistance leader Lambertus Koopman from Heerenveen who already had S/Sgt. Thomas Reilly (E0480), the tail gunner of ‘Sara Jane’ in his car. Koopman returned home with the four Americans who were then provided with civilian clothing. Because Koopman was active in the resistance, he thought it better to find safer hiding addresses for the airmen. Tyson and Reilly moved to the house of widow Van der Laan at the Mr. Halbe Binnertsstraat 49 in Heerenveen while Bistline and Wilson went to stay with the Hoekstra family at the Verl. Korflaan 83 in the same town. Early in August, Reilly and Tyson left the Van der Laan family with Bistline taking the place of Wilson at the Hoekstra family. Tyson and Bistline moved to the widow Peereboom-Zwanenburg, who lived at the Gedempte Molenwijk 86 in Heerenveen, on August 23, 1944, and they stayed in hiding there until their liberation on April 14, 1945.

Wilson joined Reilly and the latter two were taken from Heerenveen to Doornspijk by Willem de Jonge. On August 7, he delivered both men to the address of Dr. Willem Wolffensperger who lived in Huize Klarenbeek in that village. Here they joined 2/Lt. Carroll Stearns (E0536) and P/O. Derek A. Duncliffe (E0538). Because the 'Grüne Polizei' became very active in the Doornspijk area shortly after, Wilson and Reilly left for Zwolle on August 22 while Stearns and Duncliffe were taken to a hiding place in the woods near Vierhouten on the same day. Next day, Wilson and Reilly re-joined Stearns and Duncliffe as their plans 'had missed fire'. The four airmen were then brought to the so called 'Pas Op' camp or 'Het Verscholen Dorp' in the woods between Nunspeet and Vierhouten. This camp housed about 85 persons, mainly Jews and young Dutchmen who were avoiding the German ‘Arbeitseinsatz’, compulsory employment in Germany. But it was also used to hide downed airmen and they were joined here over time by S/Sgt. Alfred Knowlton (E0637), P/O. Eric Blakemore (E0570), F/O. John Craven (E0571) and F/O. Kenneth Parsons (E0613). Conditions in the camp that was also called ‘Pas op’ were 'fair' but after operation Market Garden, the food situation worsened. The Germans became increasingly aware of the existence of the camp and therefore all refugees were transferred to a larger refugee camp near Oldebroek on October 22, 1944. The group was split up and the resistance from Elburg took them to different hiding addresses.

By mid-November the airmen were collected again and in the evening of November 17, they were brought to the farm of the Van Norel family at the Stoopschaarweg in Doornspijk. Here they joined some others, most of them Airborne soldiers who had fought at Arnhem. Only the son of the family, Gerrit, was aware of the ‘unofficial guests’ who were going to participate in the Pegasus II escape operation. The plan was that the group would be picked up by a truck there the same night but it didn’t show up. Early in the morning of November 18, the eighteen men were brought to different hiding addresses. At the beginning of the evening the truck did arrive but at the ‘Old Putten’ estate near Elburg. The eighteen men were brought there in a hurry from their different hiding places. All men were given a shovel when they boarded the truck as if they were Organisation Todt-workers. After an adventurous ride of about an hour the truck stopped, and a man escorted them to another staging point for Operation Pegasus II. However, they had arrived too late at the rendez-vous and therefore they missed the main group. They then left as last party and while on their way, they heard machine gun fire from up front. An advance party had run into a German sentry and a firefight had started. The guides of the resistance ordered the party into a thick forest to wait there. In the afternoon, after a night in the cold, a farmer turned up with stew and Dutch gin (jenever). In the evening of November 19, a horse drawn cart appeared as promised and took the group to a barn on the land of J. van Essen at the Westerhuisweg in Harskamp.

The group was then split up and the men went to several addresses. Where Wilson went in hiding is unclear but probably he stayed (at least for a while) together with Stearns. Eventually, towards the end of February, 1945, he was put on the Biesbosch escape line. He travelled the usual route via the locks at Schalkwijk and crossed the Lek River between Willige-Langerak and Groot-Ammers with help of the Lek resistance group. He was then brought to Sliedrecht where he arrived early in March. Wilson initially stayed with the Wesdorp family and after ten days at this address, he moved to the tobacco shop of ‘Ome Gijs’ Visser at C161 in Sliedrecht. The American stayed here till the end of the war and regained his freedom when a Canadian patrol from Culemborg came to Sliedrecht on May 10, 1945.

James Reece Wilson passed away on 14 October 2005 at the age of 81 at Waterloo, Black Hawk County, Iowa, USA. He is buried at Garden Of Memories, Waterloo, Black Hawk County, Iowa, USA.						
Source(s)
* W.H. de Vries, De regio tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog (Wolvega 1995), page 59-65
* Wolter Noordman, Ondergedoken op de Veluwe. Geallieerde militairen en hun deelname aan operatie 'Pegasus II' en ontsnapping via 'Biesbosch' (Kampen 2010), page 208, 292, 403, 476
* National Archives, Washington, MACR 4559 (NAID: 90962745) National Archives, Washington, Helper Files, NAID: 286686702, 286668540, 286658825, 286660960, 286720284, 286718377, 286650435, 286715474, 286638375, 286715628
* Hans Keukelaar, Simon Ooms, At Stravers and Job Vermeulen, De Lekcrossers. Piloten ontsnappingsroute over Lek en Merwede tijdens WO II (Nieuwpoort 2020), page 71