Monday, January 14, 2013

How To Make Underwear From Parachutes

Band of mothers: Bravery of women who confronted downed Luftwaffe airman with pitchforks... to steal his parachute and make silk knickers for entire village!

By Emily Andrews, Daily Mail
When a German bomber crashed in a field on May 10, 1941, the women of Earlswood were quick to mobilise.
Seizing pitchforks, brooms and scissors, they marched two miles across the countryside towards the wreckage – and wounded wireless operator, Rudolph Budde, who ran off in fear as they approached.
But they didn’t want revenge. They wanted his silk parachute.
The canopy provided enough material to make bloomers for every woman in the village who wanted a pair at a time when new clothes were an all-but forgotten luxury, and silk a rare commodity.
Private Budde was captured the following day by the Home Guard and treated for burns at a hospital near the village, in Warwickshire. He was then held as a prisoner of war.
The remarkable story came to light thanks to Christine Thorp, who took an off-cut of the parachute to the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. Her mother, Irene Gill – at the time Irene Smith – was one of the women involved in the intrepid silk raid.
Mrs Thorp, 72, said: ‘My mother died two years ago aged 95 but a few years before she gave me the piece of the parachute as she knew I was interested in the story behind it.
‘She told me the villagers had seen this German bomber come down a couple of miles away and a handful of them – mainly women as the men were away at war or working on the farms –got together and decided to retrieve a parachute.
‘They picked up whatever weapons they could lay their hands on like pitchforks and brooms for their own protection and walked two miles across the fields.
Christine Thorp with a piece of the
German parachute
‘When they got there and found the airman, he was more scared of them. She said he must have thought he was going to be killed and ran off into the woods. They found his parachute and cut it up among themselves using the scissors. It was pure silk, very soft and fine material.
‘Women who were married during the war often had to make their own wedding dresses out of a variety of materials. They were quite resourceful.‘All the ladies in the village who wanted some silk got some but others would not touch it because it was German.
‘Mother did make some underwear out of her cut but she also got a piece that had some German printing on. It was unusable but she decided to keep it.
Irene Gill
‘I have had it for about 20 years and have washed and ironed it and now keep it in a plastic cover in my wardrobe.'
Private Budde’s Heinkel HE-III bomber was part of a large formation that attacked Birmingham on the night of May 10, 1941.
His plane was supposed to break off from the main group to bomb a factory at Longbridge, where Lancaster bombers were being made.
The four-man crew were meant to follow the Birmingham to Bristol railway line as a navigating aid but chose the wrong tracks.
The plane ended up going towards Redditch and was shot by anti-aircraft fire when it flew over RAF Wythall. It crashed in a field near Earlswood.
The pilot, Senior Lieutenant Johannes Speck von Steinberg, flight engineer Sergeant Siegfried Ruhle, who had been awarded the Iron Cross, and Sergeant Fritz Mohn were killed outright.
The Earlswood Village Museum still holds part of the wreckage of the Heinkel. It also has Sergeant Ruhle’s Iron Cross, which was found in the field weeks later.
Remains of the downed Heinkel HE-III bomber
Gefreiter Budde (bottom left) alongside the crew of the downed bomber.
He was repatriated to Germany after the war.  He died in 2003 aged in his 80s


  1. My Mom tells a story that the silk worms were given out as a class project to all the kids in school. They only ate a certain tree leaf and they were kept busy feeding them. They raised them until they formed cocoons and turned them in. My Grandfather Rudolph Tardin even though living in Yugoslavia was forced into the Germany Army. He's been missing since 44 and he don't know what happened to him. Grandmother used to get letters from the German gov asking if she had heard from him so they could stop paying her widows pension.

    1. Rosedale, thanks for your comment. I wondered if the German silk was made domestically or if they imported it. You have answered my question! Also, very interesting and sad about Rudolph. Your Grandmother's grief could not have been eased by the German Govt trying to get out of paying her pension.