Jail raid to save Resistance fighters

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THERE’S a memorial in Amiens, France, dedicated to a Sheffield man.

To the Amiens community, 28-year-old Captain Percy Pickard, from Handsworth, was a saviour.

Throughout the Second World War, this town in German-occupied area of France was home to hundreds of French Resistance fighters, but in 1944, a traitor infiltrated their ranks and most of the Resistance were arrested and imprisoned at Amiens prison. Twelve were told they would be executed.

The French Resistance contacted the RAF suggesting a low-level precision bomb attack that could target the prison’s walls. The RAF decided to go ahead with the mission and the machine of choice was the wooden-built Mosquito - a light, agile craft known for its speed and precision, low-level bomb dropping.

Three Mosquito squadrons were chosen. The leader of the one of the squadrons, the ‘140 Wing’, was 28-year-old Captain Percy ‘Pick’ Pickard.

‘Pick’ was one of the most experienced bomber pilots in the and was also enjoying a burgeoning career as something of a film star, having starred in Target for Tonight, a film in which he played the part of a pilot of a Wellington bomber.

Pickard was already a much-decorated pilot - but in spite of his many achievements, it was Operation Jericho that would earn the Sheffield Captain his greatest recognition.

The mission had already been postponed twice because of bad weather before setting off on February 18 - only a few days before the French Resistance fighters would be shot dead.

Eighteen Mosquito bombers took off, flying in formation over the English Channel, aiming to reach Amiens at noon, when the majority of the guards would be taking lunch.

They bombed the prison with staggering accuracy but while flying above to look at the results of the mission, Pickard was shot down by a German fighter.

The much decorated, much venerated Handsworth Captain was killed.

Captain Percy Charles Pickard wasn’t the only casualty in Operation Jericho. German machine gun fire and bombing killed 102 prisoners, but 258 escaped, this included the 12 who were told they were to be executed.