Barnett and Browne - Evasion, Capture and Escape!

F/Lt. Gary Barnett and Sgt. Stan Browne after their successful escapes from France.
Peter R. Arnold Collection via Gerard Morris

On 31st May, 1942, 485 New Zealand Squadron lost two pilots after combat with around 30 FW190’s during Rodeo 64 to Abbeville. Flight Sergeant Stan Browne (flying Spitfire BL669, coded OU-L) and Flight Lieutenant Matthew “Gary” Barnett (flying Spitfire BM383, coded OU-A) both baled out in the Abbeville area…

Stan Browne was at large for two weeks before he was taken prisoner by the French, at Caussades. He was imprisoned at Fort De La Revere – situated at the top of the mountain range running along the coast above Nice and Monte Carlo and was somewhat surprised to find that Flight Lieutenant Barnett was already interned there!

Barnett’s Spitfire had been badly damaged by enemy fire – he was struggling to release the canopy when the engine fell out and he simply stepped out of the stricken aircraft, deployed his parachute and landed uninjured in a small plantation. He managed to disguise himself as a French peasant and made his way to Paris by train, where he received French assistance with the onward journey to Bordeaux.

Having made it this far, it must have been a crushing blow to be caught by a plain clothes official in the village of Frontinac, just across the border into unoccupied France. He was handed over to the Gendarmerie and eventually taken to Fort De La Revere.

In August, the imprisoned officers found out about plans to move them to a different camp and decided to make a bid for freedom on the eve of the move, breaking out of the fort and heading for Monaco. They holed-up in a flat for a few days and then made for Marseilles, where they were hidden in safe houses until one of the escape lines could begin to escort them individually to Perpignan, and then on to Canet Plage.

The day after Barnett arrived there, he was reunited with Browne for the second time!

Stan Browne had taken part in a mass escape from Fort De La Revere two weeks after Barnett had got out. Stan had made straight for Nice where he went into hiding and was put into contact with the same group that helped Barnett.

From this point, both men tackled the arduous crossing of the Pyrenees before being ferried to Gibraltar, and back to England, where they both eventually returned to 485 squadron to much acclaim and jubilation. (Browne arrived back in November).

“Gary” Barnett and Stan Browne were both born in Wellington, New Zealand, attended Wellington Boys College and went on to study at Victoria University, before joining the RNZAF.

After his triumphant return to England, Matthew “Gary” Barnett went on to lead B Flight of No.485 squadron in July 1943 and took command of No.234 Squadron a month later. He subsequently led No.501 squadron from October 1943, where he was awarded the DFC, and then No.274 squadron in August 1944.

Stanley Franklin Browne (born Wellington, New Zealand in 1919), was posted to No.122 Squadron and then out to the Mediterranean with No.93 Squadron from March to December 1943, and  was awarded the DFC. In July he was shot down behind enemy lines and evaded capture again! He went back to No.485 Squadron for his second tour of operations and took command of A Flight in January 1945. In June of that year he became No.485 Squadron’s last commanding officer before they were disbanded.  Browne was awarded a Bar to his DFC in September.

Many thanks to Gerard Morris, author of ‘Spitfire, The New Zealand Story.’
No.485(N.Z.) Squadron by Sortehaug and Listemann
No.485(N.Z.) Facebook group.

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