A few days after D-Day (5)

In my previous article, I revealed that it is now known that one member of the crew of that Lancaster Z-NH, serial number ME150, brought down by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, did not perish, but survived the crash, only to be then killed, proudly fighting alongside the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Graignes.

For many years the tale had been told that the mystery aviator was an American fighter pilot who had been shot down, but in recent times, around 2008, the real truth has come to light. The mystery flyer was Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black of the Royal Australian Air Force.
I found the full, detailed story prominently featured on Channel Nine News:

“For sixty years his family had thought he died on D-Day in a relatively straight forward situation when his plane was shot down over occupied France by enemy fire. “We knew that he had been in a crashed plane and we always thought that he died there and then,” his great niece Elissa Liggins said. But Sergeant Black survived the crash, and was taken in by a brave French family for the night.
After a good stiff drink and a sleep Sergeant Black asked to be taken to the nearby village of Graignes where he met a group of American paratroopers. Their orders were to defend the village. Even after a plane crash, Sergeant Black was determined to help.”

graignes
“Aided by the villagers, the paratroopers and Sergeant Black set up a perimeter around Graignes.
After a couple of days, the Germans attacked. The allies successfully fought them off the first time but the Germans successfully attacked again.
The S.S. then executed many of the survivors. It is not clear exactly how Sergeant Stanley Black died but he was probably killed on June 11th. He was just 21 years old. The little village never forgot their “Australian hero”.

Decades later an English lady who lives in the village, Liane Ward-Cleaveley, felt frustrated his name was not on the plaque commemorating the battle. She contacted a Lancaster enthusiast in Australia, Graeme Roberts, who tracked down Sgt Black’s relatives.

“We got a phone call from a gentleman called Graeme who had read a message from an English lady living in France,” Ms Liggins recalled.
“She had a bee in her bonnet because this Australian who had battled hadn’t got his name on a memorial.”
Accompanied by members of the RAAF, Ms Liggins flew to France for the unveiling of her great uncle’s name on the village plaque.

ryinedchurch

“I don’t think any of us appreciated how big it was going to be for the family – certainly not for me – it’s quite life changing,” she said.
Flight Lieutenant Mark Schmidt describes it as “an amazing experience”.
“It’s an incredible story and then to go to the village and connect with the villagers there… he’s a hero to those guys they call him ‘the Australian who fell from the sky’,” he said.

Every single evening at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, a single Australian who died for his country is honoured. And recently, Sergeant Stanley Black was the chosen hero.
The Last Post was played and the Eternal Fame flickered. Ms Liggins and her family laid a wreath for their uncle. It was a poignant moment she will never forget:

“I sort of feel like I have a connection with him now, that just wasn’t there before, and I know his story intimately… it’s pretty powerful stuff,” she said.

A powerful story, to share with generations to come.
And what a story. The forces of darkest evil opposed by brave, brave men, women and children.

French villagers, French children, American paratroopers, British flyers and one very, very brave and determined Australian.

Here is a film of Graignes today.

 The church has been left exactly as the cowards of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division left it.

There is another excellent film on the Channel 9 News site. It is well worth watching.

If you are feeling brave, then try this website. It has a picture of Madame Marthe His, one of the only surviving witnesses of this Nazi war crime.

marthe-his-temoigne-au-memorial-de-graignes

She watched what the SS did when she was only 12, and now, 73 years later, and a very young looking 83, she is determined that it should not be forgotten.
In a video lower down the page, she tells her story in French where, at the least, you should be able to recognise a few words.

Here is roughly the same story in French for you to read as homework:

“À 12 ans, Marthe His a vu soldats américains et civils se faire massacrer par les Allemands à Graignes. 71 ans plus tard, elle est revenue pour témoigner.

Derrière ses petites lunettes rondes, les yeux bleus de Marthe His ont gardé toute leur vigueur. Au moment de témoigner, hier après-midi au mémorial de Graignes (Manche), un voile de tristesse a peut-être atténué leur éclat pendant quelques minutes. C’est tout en pudeur que ce petit bout de femme, âgée de 83 ans, a revécu en souvenir les massacres de Graignes en juin 1944.

Des 200 Américains qui débarquent dans la maison familiale, au sauvetage de 23 soldats. Elle replonge dans cette histoire tragique du débarquement dans la Manche.
Un épisode sanglant où 43 soldats Américains et 30 habitants de Graignes trouveront la mort des mains des Allemands.”

memorial

And don’t forget Flight Sergeant Stanley Black of the Royal Australian Air Force.

He didn’t need to do what he did.

But he did it nevertheless. A true hero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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22 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Criminology, France, History, Politics, The High School

22 responses to “A few days after D-Day (5)

  1. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on Lest We Forget II and commented:
    Part 5 of A few days after D-Day

  2. Pierre Lagacé

    Fernand Hains was killed on June 7, 1944. People still remember.

    • And so they should. I wish here in England they would name more new roads and parks after war heroes but it never seems to happen. What does happen quite frequently is that either individuals or groups of interested people will raise money to mark the place where a plane crashed.

  3. Such a fine example of good character in a treacherous situation. The generals get their names in the history books but thousands of mostly forgotten individuals like Sergeant Black made it all happen.

    • Yes, you are absolutely right. Hopefully though, in your perhaps more egalitarian armed forces, you never have the situation where several men do something brave and only the officer gets a medal. I’m sure that if my Dad were still alive at 96, he would still be only too glad to tell you that story!

  4. Pierre Lagacé

    Sublime post John!

    • Thank you. I just hope Sergeant Black and all his pals up in heaven have enjoyed reading it! And thank you for your kind words. They are very much appreciated.

  5. Another important story well told, John

  6. Excellent work here. Thanks for telling Sgt. Black’s story.

    • It’s like an interesting “chain of death” when you try to research one thing and that leads you on to some really striking event. And then, perhaps another. I started looking for an ex-pupil of my school, Frank Leonard Corner, and somehow you are led on and on until you meet an Australian who, quite frankly, deserves to be on postage stamps, as do the gallant men of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the French people who knew exactly what fate awaited them if the Nazis caught them.

  7. atcDave

    I love this story. Very powerful.

  8. What a great service you have done here John. You should be proud to have told it. And thank you very much.

  9. I think it’s great that in Australia, as at the Menin, the last post is played every day. What a shame we don’t do that here to honour our lost heroes. Great work John.

  10. Thank you so much for making all those people alive for us. It is so nice to know they are not forgotten. Regards, Lakshmi Bhat

    • And let’s not ever forget that tens of thousands of troops from India came to fight in the British Army in both North Africa and Italy. They are always forgotten over here and, for example, at the school I taught in, there were large numbers of boys with relatives in India and Pakistan, who did not even know that their grandfathers were such brave men and had fought so fiercely in these campaigns.

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