Longford man relives memories of WWII

This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the decisive push by Allied Forces during the second world war or D-Day as it was known.

It is a date that has great resonance for many, but particularly with one Longford native, who during those tumultuous times was in the front line of attack, on a RAF Lancaster Bomber.

Lawrence Duffy originally from Fyhora, Co. Longford near Arva, son of John and Ann Duffy was a radio officer on a RAF bomber. Lawrence survived a crash landing in Reichmannsdorf on January 15, 1945 after the bomber had been damaged by anti-aircraft fire during a raid on a German Chemical Factory.
What happened next is extraordinary, and something which Mr Duffy, now 83 years of age and living in Athlone, has never forgotten.

With the crippled bomber losing fuel, the pilot attempted to reach safely across the border in neutral Switzerland. Instead it failed to clear a mountain and ploughed into a snowy slope.

“I got out but went back in as another member of the crew had also survived. I managed to get him out,” Lawrence explained. After leaving him in a comfortable situation as possible, Lawrence set out to find help. (The crew member was later found and became a POW). Lawrence was not sure whether he was in Germany or Switzerland.

At a house nearby he was stopped by an old man with a rifle, who let him in after Lawrence assured him he was unarmed.

Inside the house were the women who were to save Lawrence’s life. None of them spoke English, so a translator was sought, however when he arrived, Lawrence thought the game was up.

“When he came over he had a swastika in his lapel and I thought, ‘Jesus, that’s it.”
The translator explained that he had been a prisoner of war in England in WWI.

He took Lawrence aside and told him to make peace with his maker.

“I was bundled out and there were three men with rifles already pointed in my direction. But the ladies got cracking, they screamed, kicked and pulled hair,” said Lawrence.

“There was a fourth woman who was very old, and sitting up in a wicker chair, she was on crutches and she began hitting out with her crutches. Then a crowd assembled on the street, about 14 yards from the front door, and the other women, when they saw what was happening, they gave a hand too, and stopped them shooting me,” Lawrence relates.

He was brought the next morning by the German Army to a hospital and from there to POW camp where he stayed for the short remainder of the war.

Lawrence returned to London, where his family had settled in the early 1920s from their Longford home. He met his wife Una, who is from outside of Roscommon Town, and they had three children, Lawrence, Frank and Rory.

His son Rory contacted authorities in Germany and was told that the incident is well remembered in the region, and that the three women who were his father’s saviours were still alive. Rory has arranged for Lawrence and a number of others to fly to Germany to meet with the German women, who just under 60 years ago saved Lawrence’s life.

Courtesy of the Longford Leader