Family Stories: Joel's Great EscapeJoel Stevenson was a pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. The stories of his exploits are varied and sometimes seem to be conflicting, but that is often the nature of accounts that are pieced together long after the fact.
On July 4, 1944, Joel was flying a Lancaster KB-727 with the Moose Squadron during operations to attach the rail yards at Villeneuve St. Georges and was shot down after being attacked by a Junkers Ju.88. The crew members successfully bailed out and were captured by the Germans. Joel managed to escape and, in the process, killed a German guard.
At one point, the story is told of how he was in a city and noticed that he was being followed. He knew that to run would give himself away, but he could not help himself and he began to run. As he raced through the streets, he came up to four women who quickly took in his plight and vulnerability. Before he knew what had happened, they grabbed him and hid him.
Joel eventually made contact with the French underground. One would have thought that his troubles were now over, but such was not the case. The Germans were pulling back before the breakout of Normandy and they negotiated with the French to release some of their French prisoners in return for captured Americans. Joel was handed over to the Germans and sentenced to death. He was held for a time at the Fresnes Prison and then placed on a train bound for the concentration camp at Buchenwald where he was to be executed. With him in the railroad care was a captured chaplain who had managed to hide on his person a nail file. They used this small tool to pry open some boards in their box car and make their escape.
This time, Joel managed to get back to friendly lines, no doubt assisted by the fact that the Allied lines were advancing during this period with all possible speed. The Americans were speeding eastward in chase of the fleeing Germans while Joel wanted to make his way west. He was given a captured German halftrack for transportation and sent toward the rear. As he drove along the road, he happened upon a jeep coming the other way. It was General George Patton.
Joel arrived back in England on September 3, 1944 after being missing close to two months. Effective October 10, 1945, he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with the following citation: