Nicholas John Stockford was born in Steeple Barton in March 1922, to parents George and Elizabeth Stockford, who ran a grocery shop in the village. He attended Chipping Norton County School between 1933 and 1938 and joined the RAF as an engineering apprentice on leaving school aged 16. Between October 1940 and October 1943 he served in South Africa as an engine fitter, returning to England to train for flying duties and was posted to 207 Squadron as a Flight Engineer, with the rank of Sergeant.
On the night of 3rd May 1944 he took off aboard Lancaster EM-F ND556 of 207 Squadron, at 2205. The target was a massive German military camp situated near the village of Mailly-le-Camp that consisted of 20,000 troops and a Panzer Division of tanks. Nineteen squadrons of Lancaster bombers were involved, 346 aeroplanes in total, plus 14 Mosquitos, dropping a total of 1,500 tons of bombs and causing considerable damage to enemy weapons and equipment and virtually wiping out the entire Panzer division. Although the target was accurately marked, communication difficulties led to a delay in the main force attack, during which Luftwaffe fighters intercepted the force and claimed 42 Lancasters (11.6% of the total force). Three hundred personnel were either killed or reported as missing.
The crew of Lancaster ND566 Back: Sergeant Ron Emeny (mid-upper gunner), Sergeant Laurie Wesley (bomb aimer), Flight Sergeant Jack Pittwood (navigator) Sergeant Nick Stockford (flight engineer). Front: Sergeant Ron Ellis (tail gunner), Flight Sergeant Leslie Lissette (pilot) and Sergeant Philip King (wireless operator).
ND556 was attacked by German Focke-Wulf 190 night fighters, evading one but falling to a second, the dinghy hatch was blown off, the bomb bay was hit and a fire started. The stricken Lancaster crashed at Chaintreaux in Seine-et-Marne, the pilot Flight Sergeant Leslie Lissette RNZAF remained at the controls. He was critically injured and died in a French hospital. He shares a grave in Chaintreaux with the rear gunner Sergeant Ronald Ellis, who lived in Duns Tew.
After bailing out he following account comes from the statement he made on his return home:
The bomb aimer bailed out first and I followed him. I landed in a wood some miles north of Ferrieres. I freed ny parachute from the tree in which it had become entangled and buried it, together with my mae west, in the undergrowth. I set out at once, walking south by my compass, and continued across the fields for about three hours, when I hid in a wood until dawn. I removed my brevet and service chevrons and threw away my loose silver. I could see thar I was near a small village, and later that morning (4th May) I moved towards it. About mid-day , as I was hiding in a hedge, and though they saw me, they did not stop. Half an hour later, an old man came straight towards where I was hiding and said he was the father of the two girls who had seen me and reported my prescence. He lold me that I had reached Fontenay. When he heard that I intended to make my way south, he warned me against going through Montargis, which, he said, was full of Germans. At 1400 I set out in what I thought was a south-westerly direction, so as to make a detour round Montargis. I crossed the railway and the main road and finally reached a stream, which I followed, thinking it was flowing in the direction I wanted to go.
After scrambling through thick undergrowth in my efforts to follow the course of the stream. I came out on a secondary road leading to a bridge across a stream. I crossed the bridge and then realised I was hopelessly lost. Seeing a man working in a woodyard, I beckoned to him and asked him where I was. He told me I was on the outskirts of the village of Nargis. I made my way towards the town and then hid in woods for the night.
I set out again early next morning (5th May) for Chateau-Landon. Before I reached the town I decided to seek help at a farm. There were several people working in the fields, bu they took no notice of me. I finally managed to attract the attentions of an old man, to whom I declared myself. He took me back to the house and gave me some wine to drink. People at once crowded round and offered me food, which I refused as I was not hungry. They were just discussing the question of providing civilian clothes for me, when a woman came running up and told me I must leave at once, as the farmer had informed the authorities of my presence. I ran down the hill, through some woods and across a stream, finally crawling into the undergrowth on the far side, from where I was able to keep a good lookout for anyone searching for me.
About 1500 a man saw me and came towards me. By this time I was extremely hungry, as the only food I had eaten since bailing out was some Horlicks tablets from my escape box. The man promised to return in an hours time with some food. He returned shortly afterwards, however, without the food, which he said he would not give me until until I had written in his notebook that he had helped me. I was feeling desperate by this time, so I did as he asked me. The man then disappeared for several hours, and it was not until 1900 he returned with a loaf of bread and some cold potatoes. he was very nervous and asked me to leave at once. I continued on my way towards Chateau-Landon and reached the outskirts that evening. I passed several people, but they took no notice of me. I entered a small coppice and rested there for a while. Shortly after several youths passed close by my hiding place whistling "Tipperary". I realised they were looking for me and beckoned to them. They told me they were members of the Maquis, though I did not belive them as they had no arms. I told them I wanted to get to Beaumont, whereupon they led me out of the town and left me on the road to Mondeville. That night I lay up in a wood just outside the town.
The next morning (6th May) I walked through Mondeville and reached the outskirts of Beaumont. I stayed near the town all day, hoping to contact someone who could help me, but saw no one. Early next morning I walked through Beaune-Le-Rolande and continued along the road. I was feeling very weak by this time, so I entered a field and slept for some hours. At 1700 I set out again and walked through Boiscommun which was very deserted. Beyond the town I saw an old man working in the fields and asked him the way to Vitry. He pointed to the road I should take and I continued along it. I passed several people, who completely ignored me, though I heard one man mutter "les bosches" as I passed.
A little further on I came to a clearing in the woods beside the side of the road. I saw a water trough standing in the clearing and went straight towards it, as I was feeling extremely thirsty. As I was drinking I saw three people standing in front of a house watching me. I went up to them and asked for something to eat. After they had given me some food, I declared myself to them and was immediately invited inside. The owner of the house said that his son was away at the moment, but when he returned he would be able to put me in touch with an organisation. His son returned shortly afterwards and said he would be able to help me. I spent the night in the garage attached to the house, and the next day the son went to see a member of an organisation. That evening (8th May) I was visited by a young woman, and from this point my journey was arranged for me.
Nicholas Stockford returned home via the "Comet Line" escape route over the Pyrenees and into Portugal. On the night of 14th/15th July 1944 he arrived at Whitchurch Airport, near Bristol on a civil airliner from Lisbon. His papers were made out for a John White a civilian escapee from Vittel internment camp in France. He revealed his true identity to the security guard.
On 8th August 1944 he married Joyce Jones, of Heythrop, at Chipping Norton Methodist Church, living at 30, Spring Street, Chipping Norton. He tragically died suddenly from pleurisy at RAF Longtown near Carlisle on 18th September 1944 aged 22.
He is remembered on Chipping Norton's town and church memorial on the Heythrop war memorial. He buried in Heythrop St Nicholas Churchyard.
This page was compiled with the kind assistance of Chipping Norton Museum, Paul Burbidge of Chipping Norton and Brian Lissette of Tauranga, New Zealand.