RAF cash run sparks memories of top secret mission for Gorleston man
PUBLISHED: 14:21 16 September 2011 | UPDATED: 14:28 16 September 2011
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011
FREEDOM fighters, a dictator on the run, and a mission to deliver millions of pounds to a war-torn nation – it is an experience most people would only encounter in fiction.
Echoes of an adventure long ago
Norman Fryer revealed the details of his secret mission after events in world news began to echo his Czechoslovakian adventure.
Earlier this month, the RAF flew plane loads of Libyan currency to Libya when a freeze on the country’s assets was lifted by the United Nations.
Boxes containing £140m of Libyan banknotes (280m Libyan dinars) was sent to the African nation from the UK as part of a £950m pot handed to the Transitional National Council and Libya’s central bank.
The freeze was initially put in place to starve the former Libyan dictator Col Muammar Gadaffi of resources when civil war began to grip the nation in February.
A ship carrying £100m of Libyan currency was also impounded in March.
The decision to hand the currency back to Libya was made by a United Nations Sanctions committee in New York.
The $1.55bn cash delivery is aimed at making it possible to pay public sectors workers in Libya, including nurses, doctors, teachers and police officers - some of which have not been paid for months.
But when the news broke that the RAF had embarked on an operation to deliver £140m of previously frozen assets to Libya this month, one Gorleston man had seen it all before.
Because more than 60 years ago, Norman Fryer was recruited on a top-secret mission to escort £60m worth of Czechoslovakian currency into the heart of post second-world war Europe.
He was one of 60 men based at RAF Tarrant Rushden who were ordered by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to deliver 10 boxes of newly-printed money to Prague in a bid to kick start Czechoslovakia’s economy.
His mission at the time was simple: as a rear gunner in one of 10 Halifax aeroplanes, he had to protect the cargo with his life – and by no means should he let it fall into the hands of the Soviet Union.
But in the event of capture his instructions were clear: he was told he must set fire to the plane and destroy the money.
When the men asked how they would secure their escape to England, the commander handed them each a comb with a concealed hacksaw – capable of cutting through steel – and told them they would have to make their way to a suitable location where they would find an atlas.
Speaking about the adventure, the 86-year-old said he sometimes found it hard to believe that it happened.
“When the war ended we thought we were going to be sent off to the Far East,” he said.
“But then we were called to a meeting spearheaded by a member of the SOE who told us we were going to be flying to Prague to take £60m to kick-start the Czech economy.
“They made it very clear at the time that whatever we did we must not let the Russians get hold of the money.
“It was then we asked how we would get back and he said ‘I think you will have to walk’.
“I remember that some of us got given this comb with a saw concealed inside. I guess they expected us to use it to saw through prison bars, but I don’t think they realised that the blade would probably be blunt after sawing through one bar.”
Mr Fryer recalled that when he got up at eight o’clock the next morning, it was glorious day for the mission.
He had made a request for the men to be issued with weapons in case they became stranded and needed to protect themselves. But despite being allowed to carry handguns, none of them was supplied with any ammunition.
Mr Fryer said: “We were one of the first planes to arrive in Prague. It was just a big airfield with nothing much else there, and we waited for a while for the other planes to arrive.
“I remember seeing this Russian sitting in a chair snoring away, and then from around the corner came a truck with a group of officials who we signed the money over too.”
Mr Fryer admits he has some doubts as to whether the money was actually used to kick-start the economy.
The 10 planes arrived safely back in England where Mr Fryer carried out numerous other SOE missions before being transferred to Palestine to train paratroopers.
After his military service, he re-trained as a dental technician, and moved to Norfolk with his wife, Margaret, to work in laboratories in Caister and Stalham.
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