Story of Yorkshire woman who was FIRST to capture German airman in WW2

‘I walked up to the man and told him to put his hands up’: How farmer’s wife from Yorkshire became first woman to capture German airman on home soil after his Junkers 88 plane was downed by Hurricane in World War II

  • Evelyn Cardwell confronted the airman near her home in Aldborough, Yorkshire
  • Her story was reported in the media and is recounted in book by Neil Storey
  • Mrs Cardwell marched up to the ‘shaken’ man and ordered him to put hands up
  • She also took his pistol off him even though she was herself unarmed 

If we were confronted in our gardens by a 6ft 4in airman armed with a pistol, most of us would be tempted to turn and run.

But when farmer’s wife Evelyn Cardwell spotted a German who was parachuting onto her land after his Junkers 88 was shot down by the crew of a Hurricane in the Second World War, she marched towards him and told him to put his hands up.

The story of the woman’s incredible bravery in July 1940, which saw her rewarded with an MBE by King George VI, is recounted in book Faces of the Home Front 1939-1945, by historians Neil Storey and Fiona Kay. 

With her husband away, Mrs Cardwell, 45, who was only 5ft 8in, had at first tried to call the authorities when she saw the German soldier in the sky above her home in the village of Aldborough, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, but then discovered the phone did not work.

Instead, she told one of her farmhands to go on his bicycle and alert the police, whilst she plucked up the courage to walk outside.

She told reporters how she put on her ‘fiercest frown’ and told the airman, who did not speak English, ‘to put his hands up’ before pointing to the automatic pistol on his hip to make him understand.

He is said to have ‘smiled wryly’ before handing the weapon over and was then marched by Mrs Cardwell along the nearby main road until police and soldiers arrived to take him away.

She became the first woman to capture a German airman in the Second World War.

Photos which were printed in the Daily Mail at the time show Mrs Cardwell posing with her dog and meeting the King, whilst another shows the flaming wreckage of the German’s Junkers 88.

Evelyn Cardwell became the first woman to capture a German airman in the Second World War when a Junkers 88 was shot down over her home in Aldborough, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, in July 1940

Mrs Cardwell had been alerted to the airman’s presence by one of her farm boys, who was reported to have rushed to her door to tell her that ‘German parachutists are coming, mam’.

The German had been part of a crew of four in the Junkers 88 when it was shot down. Whilst the pilot was killed, three of the men had been able to bale out.

Mr Storey’s book does not recount the fate of the other two men once they had landed.

Mrs Cardwell, who had been trained to think quickly in an emergency as part of her role in wartime organisation the Women’s Voluntary Services, recounted her experience to the British media.

Historian Neil Storey’s book Faces of the Home Front 1939-1945 recounts  how Mrs Cardwell’s experience prompted newspapers including the Aberdeen Express to offer guides for British civilians which told them what to do in the event that they encountered a downed airman. 

The one in the Aberdeen was entitled, ‘Here’s How to Get Your Nazi’.

It read: ‘How would you command a Nazi parachutist or airman from a fallen plane if you had the opportunity, as one woman had recently, of capturing him?

‘If you could not speak the German language you would have to confine your commands to gestures.

‘But if you learn the following words and passages you would be able to make your demand clear.’

‘The translations given with phonetic renderings, should be of particular interest to members of the LDV.

‘STOP: Halt (pronounce ‘a’ as in apple)

‘SURRENDER: Ergeben (ere-gay-ben)

‘DROP THAT GUN: Waffen ablegen (waffen ab-lay-gen)

‘I AM ARMED: Ich bin bewaffnet (eech bin bay-waff-net)

‘PUT YOUR HANDS UP: Hande hoch (henday hoch)

‘OR I’LL FIRE THIS GUN: Sonst schlesse ich (sonst shee-ssey eech)

‘KEEP WALKING: Vowarts ohne halten (fore-verts oney halt-en)’

She said: ‘One of my farm men came to the door of my sitting room and said some German parachutists were coming down.

‘I went straight to the telephone but found it was out of order. What was I to do? We of the WVS had been told by Lady Reading that we were to use our initiative in an emergency.

‘So I rushed to the door and saw a huge airman parachuting slowly to the ground. He looked as if he was coming right into my garden.

‘I did not know what he was going to do so I told my groom’s boy to go on his bicycle for the police.

‘But in the meantime I had to do something. I went out into the garden and saw the airman limping across the paddock towards the house.’

She said that whilst there were two or three people outside, they did not intervene and so she was forced to take action herself.

‘I walked up to the man and told him to put his hands up. He didn’t understand until I made signs and he then raised his hands in the air,’ she added.

‘I pointed to the automatic pistol in his belt and he nodded and smiling, wryly, handed it to me. He was very quiet and seemed very distressed by the sight of his burning plane about half a mile away.

‘He seemed pale and shaken. I walked with him in front of me to the road along which I thought the military would be coming.

‘We waited for about half an hour before the police and soldiers arrived and took the airman away.’

A few weeks later, Mrs Cardwell was rewarded for bravery with the MBE honour from King George. 

A photo shows her curtseying as she shakes his hand at a hotel in the nearby town of Hornsea.

Mrs Cardwell’s story prompted the British media to offer advice on how to deal with similar situations involving downed German airmen.

Mr Storey’s book recounts how the Aberdeen Express offered a guide entitled, ‘Here’s How to Get Your Nazi’.

It read: ‘How would you command a Nazi parachutist or airman from a fallen plane if you had the opportunity, as one woman had recently, of capturing him?

A few weeks later, Mrs Cardwell was rewarded for bravery with the MBE honour from King George. A photo shows her curtseying as she shakes his hand at a hotel in the nearby town of Hornsea


The Daily Mail also covered the news about Mrs Cardwell’s daring feat of bravery. It recounted how she put on her ‘fiercest frown’ as she approached the German

‘If you could not speak the German language you would have to confine your commands to gestures.

‘But if you learn the following words and passages you would be able to make your demand clear.’

It then offered a pronunciation guide for words and phrases including ‘stop’, ‘surrender’, ‘drop that gun’ and ‘I am armed’.

The story of the woman’s incredible bravery in July 1940, which saw her rewarded with an MBE by King George VI, is recounted in Faces of the Home Front 1939-1945, by historians Neil Storey and Fiona Kay

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