Category Archives: France

Freedom and the English (1)

The other day, I was reading that classic work, the “Nottingham Date-Book” when I stumbled upon two little gems. The first was dated September 30th 1793 and showed a Blackadder type of world where alcohol replaces political thought:

“The Mayor’s installation banquet at the “New Change” as it was termed, was distinguished by excessive displays of loyalty. Amongst the toasts were “the King and Constitution,” with three times three, “the Duke of York and the Army,” “the Duke of Clarence and the Navy,” and so on.

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The Mayor himself sang the air, “God save the King,” and his guests the chorus, followed by loud huzzas and  Constitutional songs.”

These drunken fools in the past made me realise just how free Englishmen are in our present time. Free  to do what your rich betters want you to do. A good citizen as long as you think exactly what you are supposed to think. And any thought of a questioning kind is just not welcome. As it is now, so it was then, back in 1793, in the era when first the Americans and then the French had found other ways to rule themselves than with a king.

declaration of independence

The next entry in this diary of Nottingham is for November 12th 1793, in an entry where the author of the book promises us that “The spirit of the times will be observed in the following circumstances”. The events all took place in  Spalding, just over forty miles from Nottingham, in neighbouring Lincolnshire.

spalding

Here is the sorry tale:

“One of the Officers of the Nottingham Regiment of Militia” states the Journal, “now lying at Spalding, went to a shoemaker’s of that place to order a pair of boots, but on observing that detestable outcast of society’s book, Paine’s Rights of Man, lying on the table, he thought proper to countermand the order, and take the book along with him. Next day, the soldiers being under arms and forming a circle round a large bonfire, this knight of the lapstone was summoned to appear before them,, and made to burn the celebrated jargon of nonsense, the music playing “God save the King” during its burning, at the end of which the soldiers and inhabitants gave three loyal huzzas, and then this wonderful would be wiseacre was suffered to depart”.

And just in case you are wondering, a lapstone is, according to the Free Dictionary, “a rounded device or stone on which leather is beaten with a hammer by a cobbler”

Here is Thomas Paine:

paine

According to Wikipedia, Thomas Paine is exactly what you don’t want in a society run by the upper classes, especially when, deep down, they know that they are not particularly clever or competent. And they worry therefore when the ignorant peasant class produces a “political activist, philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary” like Thomas Paine, “The Father of the American Revolution”:

paine statue

Paine came from Norfolk and his famous book, Rights of Man,  was in part a defence of the French Revolution:

rights man book

Paine believed that each individual has rights and that all the institutions that do not benefit the nation are invalid.  Top of the list was the monarchy and the aristocracy.
He wanted a written Constitution for England, a national assembly and a national budget without any money to be spent on military or war expenses.

He demanded lower taxes for the poor and free education for all.

He wanted a progressive income tax, to limit the power of wealthy estates, so that a ruling class could not preserve power, whether economic, political or religious, uniquely within the nobility.

Indeed, Paine stated that the ability to govern is not hereditary. This would mean that any idea of inheritance or royal succession would be abolished.

Paine was tried in his absence for seditious libel against the King and the Royal Family but could not be hanged because he never returned to England.
At this time, George III was as mad as a fish although there are plenty of people who say that it was mostly down to the medicines given to him by his doctors.

Madness_of_king_george-715444

When the doctors stopped treating him as, presumably, a hopeless case, King George got better almost straightaway.
It says a great deal for the repressive machinery of the government that those buffoons in Spalding who gave “three loyal huzzas” for the king didn’t even realise that their king was completely mad. They might just as well have gone down to the local fishmongers and pledged their undying loyalty to the largest cod on the counter.

Fish-with-Crown-

 

 

 

 

 

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Wolves (the animal not the football club)

When I wrote about the Beast of Gévaudan, I came to the conclusion that the ferocious creature was a previously unknown type of wolf:

bete-du-gevaudanzzzzzzz

For some unknown reason, it was being forced westwards from its normal habitat of the Polish or Russian primeval forests such as Białowieża. If ancient bison could live there, so could something even more prehistoric:

rejigged bison

At the time I did research the likelihood that the Beast was an ordinary wolf or wolves but I rejected that as a theory because I did not think that wolves would eat human beings.
It would be dishonest, however, not to make it patently clear that in the past, wolves certainly have eaten people but they don’t seem to now. Why should this be?
Firstly, extremes of weather centuries ago, more severe than what we have now, may have lead to a situation where wolves either ate any available prey items or just died. This would account for the Wolves of Paris which I have previously discussed:

wolf bounding

In actual fact they may also have acquired a taste for human flesh by eating corpses. Apparently, until as late as 1820, corpses in France were frequently thrown into open charnel pits. Presumably, these were paupers, drunks, stillborn babies, in short, anybody dead without the money for a funeral. And it is not outrageous to presume that this lovely way to dispose of the late dearly departed might have taken place in neighbouring countries too. An unfortunate situation that taught wolves to associate the scent of Man with a full belly.
If the hungry wolf wanted a better quality of prime human meat, young, and blood drippingly fresh, the best place was the battlefield straight after the battle. Once the local peasantry had stripped the bodies of everything valuable, they were not buried, but were gradually eaten by the ravens and other corvids, the eagles, both golden and especially white-tailed, and most of all, the local wolf pack.
This association of human flesh, its scent and taste, with a full stomach, was a recipe for disaster when wolves came across, say, lone travellers or children picking berries deep in the woods. And don’t forget. In France the peasantry were forbidden to own firearms to reduce the admittedly tiny risk of a blood spattering revolution.
Nowadays, the situation is completely different. Admittedly France had 7,600 fatal attacks by wolves between 1200–1900 but there has been nothing since. Italy has a population of wolves but without any fatal attacks on humans since 1945 and no attacks by wolves since the eradication of rabies in the 1960s.

wolf pack one

In the Baltic states, where rabies is still allowed to exist, just under a hundred people were bitten between 1992-2000 in Latvia and Lithuania, although the statistics are muddied somewhat in Estonia by the locals’ love for wolf-dog hybrids and keeping wolves captive on their properties.
And what about North America?

wolf baby

Well, in 2002, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game stated that there had been no human deaths in North America attributed to wild, healthy wolves since at least 1900. Concerns were caused though, when, on April 26th, 2000, a six year-old boy was attacked by a wolf in Icy Bay, Alaska. He was not killed, but then, on November 8th 2005 the body of Kenton Carnegie was found in northern Saskatchewan. He had died from “injuries consistent with a wolf attack.” The local wolves had apparently lost their fear of him because he fed them regularly.

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To increase the risk, natural food was scarce in the area at the time and four wolves had been feeding on rubbish tips in the previous weeks. They were no longer scared by human activities. On November 4th, two of Kenton’s fellow campers clashed with two extremely aggressive wolves. Zoologists have now said that this was probably an “exploratory attack” just to see how difficult it was to kill a human being. Another perhaps more serious attack was imminent.
On the day of his demise, Kenton ignored warnings from his companions and went for a walk in the woods. It took the Coroners’ jury two years to rule out Black Bear, but their eventual verdict was “Death by Wolf”.

Iberian Wolf alpha male feeding on deer, its mouth tinted with f
On March 8th 2010, Candice Berner, a thirty two year old special education teacher who had only been in Alaska since the previous August was killed by two, perhaps three, wolves as she jogged along a road outside Chignik Lake. It was late afternoon.

Candice_Berner12

This was the first ever fatal wolf attack in Alaska. David Mech, a senior research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey has studied wolves for more than fifty years. He said:

“There have been about two dozen nonfatal attacks in North America in the past century or so. Most involve wolves that have become habituated to people who have been feeding them at campgrounds, dumps and other sites near wolf habitat.”

Ms Berner was only 4 feet 10 inches tall and weighed just over eight stones (c 112 pounds). David Mech said that her slight, almost childlike build, and the fact that she was running may have attracted the wolves, who, after all, are predators by nature:

“Wolves are very much like dogs in a lot of respects. Things that are running, they have tendency to want to chase them,”

 

DogChasing

Ms Berner was thought to have been listening to music on a headset, but Dr Mech discounted this, as in his experience wolves move so silently that the wind is enough to mask their presence completely.

Whatever you think about wolves, the truth is that the inhabitants of the tiny village of Chignik Lake have lived alongside wild animals since time immemorial:

chig

This one attack has spooked all of the 73 inhabitants of the area, so remote that it can only be reached by aeroplane. The school’s stuffed wolf mascot had been there a good while, but now it has been kicked well into touch. The wolf badge of the school will also have to go if Virginia Aleck, a local woman, gets her way.
She said that everyone felt trapped in the village. None of the surrounding hills were considered safe anymore.  Nobody walked on their own and everybody carried a rifle.
Is this an over-reaction? Or are wolves just a part of living outside the big city? I’ll try to answer that question in a future article.

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Filed under Canada, Cryptozoology, France, History, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature

George Brown

On Saturday, July 8th 1944, Old Nottinghamian, Lieutenant George Colin Brown, was killed in action during the aftermath of the D-Day landings. He was just 24 years of age. Lieutenant Brown was in the 2nd Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment (3rd Infantry Division). He is buried in the War Cemetery at Ranville near Caen in Calvados, Normandy. This cemetery houses some 2,567 war casualties.RanvilleCimetiere

Here is the church tower:

ranville ch

In actual fact, Ranville was the first village to be liberated in France.

George Colin Brown was born on February 22nd 1921. His father was WA Brown, a Schoolmaster of 10 Grove Street, Beeston. He entered the High School on September 16th 1932 when he was eleven years of age and immediately became a member of White’s House. He obtained his School Certificate in 1936.

At the High School, George was a keen cricketer, and the school magazine reported poignantly that his “fast in-swinging yorker on the leg stump was devastating on its day”:

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George had appeared for the 1st XI in 1936, 1937 and 1938. I have only been able to trace the exact details of just one single game that George played in. On May 29th 1937, therefore, he appeared in a fixture at Valley Road against King Edward VII School, Sheffield. The High School scored 77 all out, but Sheffield managed a narrow win by two wickets, with their score of 80 for 8. George scored nine runs when he batted and was bowled by Fletcher. We do not know exactly what type of bowler he was, but his performance was eminently successful, taking three wickets for 28 runs. His performance was bettered only by GF Palmer, who took three wickets for only seven runs.

Boys still learn to play cricket down on the cricket pitches at Valley Road. Almost eighty years after George used his “devastating fast in-swinging yorker on the leg stump”, games against other schools are still won, drawn and lost, all in that same spirit of good sportsmanship that George would have recognised:

nhs

Overall, though, his “fast in-swinging yorker on the leg stump” must have been very effective. In 1938, George took six wickets out of ten against Burton Grammar School and conceded a paltry fifteen runs. Later in the same season, he exceeded this with a haul of seven wickets for twenty runs against Stamford Grammar School. During that distant summer of 1938, he played exceedingly well because in total George took 45 wickets at a cost of just 6.42 runs per wicket. This was the best performance by a High School bowler during the season, in which the First Eleven was victorious in six matches out of twelve. Opponents included such old friends as Forest Amateurs, Notts Amateurs, the Old Nottinghamians, Ratcliffe College, Stamford School and Trent College, left hanging on at 50 for 3, chasing a winning total of 162.

When George Brown played down there at Valley Road, just before the war, a gigantic tree stood very close to two of the pitches. Alas! It was blown down in the great hurricane of 1987. It used to stand on the grass, perhaps directly in front of the house on the left. As I mentioned, it was close to two of the cricket pitches, so not one but two teams would wait to bat under its canopy of leaves :

untitled
I have been unable to trace any exact details of poor George’s death, but I suspect it was in the battle to control Caen, as the Allies moved inland after D-Day.

A website which details the entire war day by day says:

“On July 8th 1944, a major British and Canadian attack began around Caen. 2,726 tons of bombs were dropped by 450 RAF bombers overnight as part of the preliminaries. The battleship HMS Rodney delivered hundreds of 16-inch shells. US forces coordinated an attack to the west. British and Canadian troops entered the outskirts of Caen, only to find SS Colonel Meyer’s Panzer tanks still firmly established outside the city.
The citizens of Caen stayed huddled in their cellars while the Germans stubbornly held out. Hitler had ordered that every square kilometre should be defended to the last man, but the Allies managed to penetrate into the very centre of the ruined city along the north bank of the River Orne. There they were stopped by Meyer’s men. In a month of battles, every single one of Meyer’s battalion commanders was killed and he received no replacements. Meyer wrote in his diary:

“My officers and men all know that the struggle is hopeless, but they remain willing to do their duty to the bitter end.”

That is the point of view of an apparently honourable man but ultimately, it was pointless fanaticism, which may well have resulted in the death of another honourable man, George Colin Brown, at only 24 years of age.

30_caen04xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

 

 

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Drawing the Beast of Gévaudan

When the Beast of Gévaudan first appeared in 1764, people were unable to identify it. That is why it was immediately christened, in Occitan, the local language of the area, “La Bèstia”.  They did not see it as a wolf, but as some unknown monster that devoured little children. The newspapers of the time wanted accurate drawings of it, and it is now known that these two were the first images to appear:

1764 preface

They are not mirror images of each other (but it’s close. Look at the tongue.):

1764 page 2

It is believed that no direct witness of the creature has left us a drawing. No artist ever saw the Beast. What did happen, though, it is believed, is that the artists did, on some occasions, draw the creature under the direct instructions of a witness. The problem, though, is that, if this ever did occur, we do not know which of the drawings was done in this way, or, if there was more than one, which is the most accurate.

And don’t forget. There was a language barrier between the shepherds and the shepherdesses and the artists. The latter spoke French but the locals spoke Occitan, an age old language which sounds  like a mixture of French, Italian and Spanish. I myself have heard it spoken at a  local market, but I could not understand it at all.

Every single illustration of “La Bèstia” has some accuracy in it. These first two both have some of the features of a big cat which is a detail present, on and off, through many of the descriptions given by frightened witnesses. The thrashing tail, the attacks on the head and neck, the lowering of the body, and the rapid movements from side to side before it lunged for the victim are all very feline.

Here we can see that frequently mentioned black stripe between head and tail:

666666 (2)

It may have had a long tail which could be thrashed around, and even, possibly, used to strike people:

Gevaudanwolf xxxxxx

It may have had a white chest, which means that it was, categorically, not a wolf:

bete-du-gevaudanzzzzzzz

It possibly walked short distances on two legs, again, showing its white chest:

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It might have been extremely large. Witnesses all agree that it was as large as a year old calf, or a “cob”  horse:

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Both claws and hooves have been mentioned by witnesses. Hooves, possibly because it was a creature of the Devil:

unknoiwn 3

Here is another cat-like individual:

unknoiwn 8

Perhaps it may have had a rather prehistoric look to it, but it still went straight for the head:

la-fantastique-bete-du-gevaudan_4099155-L

It may have been extremely strange looking, even if it were a new unknown species:

untitled 1

It may, again, have been a strange canid, but one which invariably went for the head, rather than the more usual canid attacks on the rear legs and lower back:

page 72

The creature is sometimes depicted alongside the children which were its normal prey items. There may have been two monsters, or possibly even a small, scattered breeding population:

unknoiwn 7

Perhaps it was a peculiar breed of dog. A super killer greyhound:

Bête_du_Gévaudan_(1764)

It may have been, as Abbé Pourcher thought, a scourge sent by God, un fléau de Dieu. As we have already seen, though, many people believed the monster had been sent by Satan himself. For this reason, they often mentioned hooves. On occasion the head had the look of a satanic goat about it:

yes 11 (2)

Perhaps the illustration was one of the very first ever to be drawn, and the artist had little or nothing to go on, except, perhaps, some peculiar connection with Scottish tartan:

yes weird (2)

Simplistic, but still with a bushy tail and a stripe along the crest of its back. Perhaps the monster appeared faintly human in its movements. This is certainly an extremely lascivious expression on its face:

yes q

The church and stone buildings of the region have not changed in 350 years:

yes statue 7 yes (2)

And the brave young girl, Marianne, the spirit of France, fights on and on, against any creatures that may come along:

yes statue 2 (2)

She will never surrender:

yes statue with spear yes (2)

Not to any kind of monster that may threaten her country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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A few days after D-Day (4)

I wrote a previous article about an Avro Lancaster Mark III bomber which took off from Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, ten miles south east of Lincoln, at twenty five minutes past midnight on June 7th 1944. Its squadron letters were Z-NH and its serial number was ME150.

Operating in the direct aftermath of D-Day the crew were tasked with bombing Coutances, a beautiful little town just south west of Caen in Normandy, in an effort to disrupt the German transportation of troops.

balguthrie

Unfortunately, the aircraft was one of two hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire over Lison, and it crashed near the village of St Jean de Daye. All of the crew were killed except two.

The first of two subsequent articles told the story of John “Jock” Drylie, the aircraft’s navigator, and the only member of the crew who ever managed to return home, in his case, to Fife in Scotland:

DRYLIE PHOTO

This is the second article of the two, and tells the extraordinary story of Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black of the Royal Australian Air Force. He was the bomb aimer, only 21 years of age and the beloved son of George and Lillian Eliza Black, of North Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia. He had been awarded a Military Medal on January 1st 1941, although I have been unable to trace the circumstances of this award.

mm for black

On June 7th 1944, Stanley survived the crash, and, in fact, was virtually unscathed. He soon met some American gentlemen, however, and then a very dark and grim tale indeed began to unfold.

These American gentlemen turned out to be the élite troops of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the American Army. Just after two o’clock in the morning of June 6th 1944, twelve planeloads of them had been dropped in error some eighteen miles from their correct drop zone. Wandering more or less at random around the marshes near Carentan, they were now very close to the village of Graignes:

Pathfinder_Plane15

At daybreak, the village mayor of Graignes, Monsieur Alphonse Voydie, woke up and suddenly noticed that the grass field behind his house was absolutely full of American soldiers.  As Mayor, he called an immediate emergency meeting of everybody in the town. The brave townspeople decided unanimously to feed the American soldiers, despite the very real risk that the Germans would shoot them all, both villagers and soldiers. Under the forceful command of Madame Germaine Boursier, all the women of the village began cooking around the clock to serve the Americans with at least two hot meals every day. At the same time, teams of villagers, men, women and children, began filling any wheeled vehicle with lost American equipment and then bringing it back to its rightful owners.

Militarily, though, the situation was hopeless. The 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the brave, helpful French villagers were completely surrounded by German troops including, among others, the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen under the command of SS-Standartenführer Otto Binge.

zz bocage

In view of what was about to happen, the fact that these Nazi troops were from the 17th SS Panzergrenadiers was supremely ironic. The unit had been raised near Poitiers in south-central France in October 1943.
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It consisted mainly of conscripts, many of whom were Rumanian Germans with a good number of French Fascist volunteers.

The SS duly attacked the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who were by now entrenched in the village. It took the Germans until June 11th to overwhelm the village, with just the church left to be captured:

church

The Americans had, by this point, claimed perhaps five or six hundred dead Germans, with the roughly the same number wounded.

To forestall all those who would defend those apologies for human beings who made up the Waffen SS, I would like to quote the Wikipedia account pretty much in full about what happened next. I have also added some extra details from a website about the battle in Normandy in 1944:

“The 17th SS stormed the church and found Captain Sophian’s medical aid station. They forced the Captain and all of the wounded outside against a wall. The men were divided into two groups and marched away. One group was marched down to the edge of a shallow pond behind Madame Boursier’s café. At the edge of the pond, the SS bayoneted the wounded men and threw them into the water one on top of the other. The other group of 507th paratroopers was forced to march to a field near the village of Le Mesnil Angot. There, the nine wounded men were forced to dig a pit. As soon as the pit was complete, the SS shot each one of them in the back of the head and dumped their bodies in the pit one on top of the other.

Other Germans began a round-up of the French civilians.  The SS men knew that the church’s belfry had been used as an observation point to direct mortar fire accurately onto their attacking troops. The SS soldiers therefore burst into the church rectory, dragged Father Leblastier and Father Lebarbanchon into the courtyard and shot them both to death. They then discovered Madeleine Pezeril and eighty-year-old Eugenie DuJardin. Overwhelmed with fear, the two old ladies had been cowering in their quarters ever since the end of the battle. The Germans shot and killed both women in their beds. Meanwhile, forty-four villagers had been rounded up and were being interrogated. They were threatened with immediate execution if they did not divulge the names of any villagers who had actively assisted the Americans. Not a single one of the villagers turned in a single name. And none of them revealed either the role that Alphonse Voydie had played in the Graignes drama. Had the Germans known what Voydie had done, they would most certainly have executed him too.

On Tuesday June 13th, the Germans burned the village. They poured gasoline over the bodies of Father Leblastier, Father Lebarbanchon, Eugenie DuJardin and Madeleine Pezeril and then set them on fire. The ensuing blaze was allowed to burn out of control, destroying 66 homes, the boys’ school, Madame Boursier’s café and the 12th-century church. Another 159 homes and other buildings were damaged either as a result of that fire or the fighting. Before the June 11th battle and the German retaliation that followed, the village of Graignes had consisted of just over two hundred homes and other structures. Afterward, only two houses survived unscathed.”

In the words of “morice”:

« A leur départ, l’école et l’église de Graignes n’existent plus, le village n’est qu’une ruine fumante. C’est un autre Oradour et un autre Maillé, la signature des SS aux abois en 1944 dans le pays. Au total, ils laissent derrière eux 63 morts. Seul le clocher du XIIème siècle resté debout défie toujours l’occupant. »

On July 6th 1986, a ceremony was held in the ruins of the church at Graignes during which eleven villagers were presented with the Award for Distinguished Civilian Service for their role in assisting the men of 3rd Battalion/507th. Six of those awards were posthumous.

Only one member of the SS was punished in any way for this incident, the rather unlucky Erwin Wilhelm Konrad Schienkiewitz who went to prison for life. If you look at the Wikipedia entry for 17th SS Panzergrenadiers, there is a shortish list of the war crimes for which some of them received prison sentences.

For the most part, they were to do with killing concentration camp prisoners, but they also executed the Mayor of a German town who wanted to surrender to the Allies and avoid unnecessary deaths. And they murdered a Jewish dentist. What bravery from the élite troops of the Master Race.

Like so many members of the Waffen SS, however, their commander,  SS-Standartenführer Otto Binge, lived out a full life and died peacefully in a warm bed on June 18th 1982.

And why am I telling this great long-winded tale, other than the fact that it deserves to be told anyway?

Well, because it is now known that one member of that crew of the 106 Squadron Lancaster Z-NH, serial number ME150, was killed proudly fighting alongside the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Graignes.
For many years, the tale had been told that there was an American fighter pilot involved in the fighting, but only in recent times, around 2008, has the real truth come to light. The mystery fighter pilot was none other than Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black, bomb aimer of the Royal Australian Air Force.

black

I will bring this tale to a conclusion in the near future.

To end with, let me repeat that none of these three articles about the Avro Lancaster III from Metheringham, Z-NH, ME150, shot down on June 7th 1944, could have been written without recourse to the websites and forums which I have indicated. I just hope that what I have written, tales which deserve to be heard, will reach another audience by my re-telling them.

 

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A few days after D-Day (3)

I have written two previous articles about an Avro Lancaster Mark III bomber which took off from Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, ten miles south east of Lincoln at twenty five minutes past midnight on June 7th 1944. Its squadron letters were Z-NH and its serial number was ME150.

Operating in the direct aftermath of D-Day the crew were tasked with bombing Coutances, a beautiful little town just south west of Caen in Normandy, in an effort to disrupt German transportation of troops:

balguthrie

Unfortunately, the aircraft was hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire over Lison, a town near Coutances, and it crashed near the village of St Jean de Daye. All of the crew were killed except two.

The first of two articles will tell the story of John “Jock” Drylie, the aircraft’s navigator, and the only member of the crew who managed, eventually, to return home, in his case, to Fife in Scotland. “Jock” Drylie is known to be on this photograph of a Short Stirling bomber and its crew, but the names of the individual flyers remain unknown:

DRYLIE PHOTO

I found John’s story on a forum, one of what must be hundreds devoted to the aircraft of the RAF in the Second World War.

The tale of John Drylie was posted by Michel Tardivat in 2014:

“When the aircraft crashed, five members of the crew were either unconscious or dead. He buried his parachute and hid in the deep bushes of Normandy for two or three days, he did not know how long. Driven by hunger, he knocked on the door of a farm near the village of Saint-Fromond. The owner of the farm was Arthur Michel who carefully checked John’s proof of identity with the local French Résistance. At this time, it was only too easy for German agents to pose, for example, as British soldiers, or downed flyers, in order to penetrate the Résistance network. Brave Monsieur Michel kept John at his farm, pretending, as the Scot could speak no French whatsoever, that he was a deaf and dumb farm worker.

All of the crew members from ME150 were initially reported as missing in action. His family, and especially his young fiancée, Margaret, were devastated. She was working at Stirling Castle as a radio operator for the Army.
In actual fact, John was already on his way back home. Arthur Michel continued his heroism by driving John to Bayeux. Again, the Germans had only one penalty for people caught helping Allies soldiers, and that was death. After that, the equally brave men and women of the Résistance network continued the process, and Flying Officer Drylie was back in Britain by July 19th 1944.

In the late 1940s, Farmer Michel took a wife and she was able, in the era of rationing and postwar shortages, to wear a silk wedding dress made from the material of John Drylie’s parachute. Arthur Michel and his lucky wife had just one daughter who was the village teacher at Saint-Fromond all her working life. At the moment, she lives in the family farm, which has been converted into a Bed and Breakfast establishment.

During the 1950s, the Drylie family would visit their French friends and their son Peter, would play around the wrecked fuselage of the Lancaster bomber which remained virtually untouched in a field near the village for many, many years.

Nowadays, in the cemetery at Saint-Fromond, brave Arthur Michel rests in peace. On his tomb is fixed a medal. It was placed there by the grateful RAF.”

John Drylie seems to have been very greatly affected by the events of June 7th 1944. He hardly ever spoke about what had happened to him in that doomed Lancaster. He never wore his wartime medals. He never attended any official ceremonies connected with that terrible night.

DRYLIE PHOTO

Just once,though, he came with three generations of his family, his children and grand-children, to visit the most famous places from D-Day, namely, Saint-Lô, Bayeux, Sainte-Mère-Église  and Colleville. It is unknown whether he visited the cemetery at Saint-Fromond or at Bayeux, but I would be very surprised if he did not. He was certainly seen to be very deeply moved as he stood silently at the places he visited

“Jock” Dryloie was a chartered-accountant for all of his life. He travelled extensively between workplaces in Paris and in Scotland. He passed away in September 1990, in his house, “Balguthrie”, in Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland:

balguthrie

He was buried in the local churchyard with his wife Margaret and his son Peter.

Personally, I would posit that John Drylie, who hardly ever spoke about what had happened, never wore his wartime medals and never attended any official ceremonies, was a classic sufferer from Survivor Guilt.

To quote Wikipedia:

“Stephen Joseph, a psychologist at the University of Warwick, has said: “There were three types of Survivor Guilt: first, there was guilt about staying alive while others died; second, there was a guilt about the things they failed to do – these people often suffered post-traumatic ‘intrusions’ as they relived the event again and again; third, there were feelings of guilt about what they did do, such as scrambling over others to escape. These people usually wanted to avoid thinking about the catastrophe. They didn’t want to be reminded of what really happened.”

I am sure that, by now, Jock will have met up with all his old pals in Heaven and they will have told him that he should feel no guilt. In Bomber Command, death was so often decided by blind chance, nothing more:

Lancaster_B_MkI_44_Sqn_RAF_in_flight_1942

 

To end with, let me repeat that none of these three articles about the Avro Lancaster III from Metheringham, Z-NH, ME150, shot down on June 7th 1944, could have been written without recourse to the websites and forums which I have indicated. I just hope that what I have written, tales which deserve to be heard, will reach another audience by my re-telling them.

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