Tag Archives: Caen

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:

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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 :

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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.

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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 NE150, 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.

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“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.”

This is the memorial to everybody who was slaughtered by the SS in that cowardly way:

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

Stanley Black  didn’t need to do what he did. And it would probably cost him his life.

But he did it nevertheless. He was 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 NE150.

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.

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:

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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.

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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 NE150, 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.

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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, NE150, 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 NE150.

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 NE150 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” Drylie 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:

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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, NE150, 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 (2)

Last time, I spoke about Frank Corner, and how he had been killed on June 7th 1944, when his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, as a huge raft of bombers tried to bomb railway lines near Coutances and bridges around Caen in preparation for D-Day.

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The young pilot of Avro Lancaster Mark III, squadron letters Z-NH and serial number NE150, was Pilot Officer Merrick George Munday Warren.

The Wireless Operator/Air Gunner was Sergeant Norman Charles Vezey Rooker, the beloved son of Charles Vezey Edward and Jessie Rooker, of Bournemouth in beautiful Hampshire. He was only twenty years of age.

Sergeant Maurice Hardy Wigham was a little older at thirty three. He was the mid-upper gunner, the much loved son of Thomas N and Eleanor Wigham of Shotley Bridge near County Durham. Maurice was the loving husband of Margaret Wigham of Parkestone in Dorset.

Sergeant Ralph Lionel Puckett was the rear gunner. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website reveals, unusually, virtually nothing about this man.

Other members of the crew included the navigator, Flying Officer John Drylie who actually  survived the crash and became what is classified an “evader”. This is somebody who is not captured by the enemy, but who, by one means or another, is able to return behind his own lines. In the case of Flying Officer Drylie, he was back in Britain  by July 19th 1944.

The final crew member was Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black of the Royal Australian Air Force:

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He was the Bomb Aimer, and he was only twenty one years of age. He too survived the crash, and came out of the wreckage virtually unscathed.

I will tell the two very differing stories of these two young men in the very near future.

The five members of the Lancaster crew who died with their aircraft, including Flight Sergeant Corner, were originally buried in the cemetery of the little village of St Jean de Daye.
The brave citizens of St Jean de Daye managed to find a British flag and a Tricolore to drape over the coffins, and the five flyers were all given a full military funeral. All the little children of the village planted British flags around their grave.

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There were lots of German troops around at this time, so this act by the villagers was an unbelievably brave thing to do. Had the Germans, particularly the SS, found out, they would quite simply have shot all of them without hesitation. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of French villagers massacred by the Germans between June 6th and the time the Nazi invaders all left French soil for good:

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It should also be put on record that 106 Squadron lost one other Avro Lancaster III during this operation. It was ND680, ZN-P, which had also taken off from Metheringham in Lincolnshire. The runway is still there today, albeit in poor repair:

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Most of the crew parachuted out of the stricken aircraft:

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The pilot, Squadron Leader Eric Sprawson, the Navigator, Flying Officer Richard RC Barker and the Bomb Aimer, Flying Officer EL Hogg, were all sheltered by French families in the outskirts of Caen. When the town was liberated after a five week wait, at the end of July, they were able to rejoin their squadron. Sadly, both gunners were killed. These were Pilot Officer Philip Sydney Arnold and Sergeant Edward Ernest James Wiggins. The Flight Engineer, Sergeant K Anderton and the Wireless Operator, WD Low, became German prisoners, both in Stalag Luft 7. in Bankau, Silesia, Germany. Anderton became Prisoner 288 and Low was Prisoner 465.

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This account, apparently taken from a newspaper of the time, takes up the story of the pilot, Squadron Leader Eric Sprawson DFC:

“A Lancaster bomber pilot from London, Squadron Leader E. Sprawson, D.F.C., wearing patched blue overalls and a dirty scarf told a Reuter correspondent of his adventurous introduction to the old Norman city and of his five weeks visit there with friendly French civilians before British troops arrived and threw the Germans out:

I was shot down by a fighter over Caen on D-Day. Five of us baled out, I don’t know if the two gunners made it or not. French civilians who had just got out of the centre of Caen to avoid bombing happened to be in the field where I landed. They had me out of uniform into these clothes within twenty minutes of my landing. They were very brave people with plenty of guts and determination. They had realised what would happen if I was caught, I would have been taken prisoner and they would be shot for hiding me. We went back into their house in the town and they treated me as a member of the family. I had no rations, so they insisted on sharing theirs with me. We were lucky and lived on the produce from a little allotment, the milk from a couple of cows and the very limited rations distributed daily to the townspeople. I got two square meals a day. My chief worry was to know what to do. Allied broadcasts advised us to evacuate the town, but I could see myself trickling into Switzerland by about 1946 and decided to stay where I was in the hope that our troops would arrive before long.

Another idea was to move into open country out of the way of concentrated bombing and shelling. But being British and individual, I thought I would have much more trouble concealing my identity. There was only one really bad bombing. I was right in the middle of it. I walked through Caen twice when it was full of Germans:

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Though I speak French and could make myself understood I could never have passed myself off as a Frenchman. One night when we were in the cellar of the house in Rue de Moulin, jutting on to the main thoroughfare of Boulevard Des Alliés, a great deal of scuttling about by the Germans took place. They had lots of armed patrols slinking along the streets while the crowd jostled south. For the last fortnight civilians in Caen had been living for this day. We heard the Allied Soldiers were two miles away, and then one mile. But there was still no sign until this morning. A 12-year-old boy rushed in to me and said very excitedly, “Here are the Allies!” I went out and saw a British sergeant. I told him I was British, but it was difficult for him to believe me. I. showed him my identification papers and told him to put me under arrest if he had any doubts. He put me in the charge of an officer who took me to the colonel of the regiment.

My friends in Caen had spread the tale that I was a Frenchman who had lost everything and was so shocked that I was unable to speak. Until this morning other French civilians with whom I had come in contact daily did not know I was English. There were collaborationists about who would have reported me at once if they had heard me talk. Most of the French in Caen were definitely for us. They realised that the bombing was necessary, and were determined to accept it as worthwhile, although after some of the heaviest raids it was understandable they would occasionally let slip a few nasty things, And now I am longing to be in uniform again and have another smack at Jerry.”

Here is Eric Sprawson himself:

Squadron_Leader_E_Sprawson

 

 

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A few days after D-Day (1)

Frank Leonard Corner attended the High School just  a few years before before the Second World War. He spent at least one season as the young scorer for the School’s First XI cricket team:

P1300886 1938

Of the three cricketers behind young Frank Corner, the one on the extreme right is George Brown. Playing for the School cricket team, George was a real asset with his “devastating fast in-swinging yorker on the leg stump”. On a forgotten Saturday in July 1944, however, now Lieutenant Brown, he 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) and on that day, the blast of an exploding German mortar shell was even more devastating than his “devastating fast in-swinging yorker on the leg stump”.

Young Frank Corner, though, left the High School and its cricket team, on the faintly ominous date of July 31st 1939. First of all, he worked briefly for the Notts War Agricultural Committee. Around this time, he had also played rugby for the Old Nottinghamians’ Wartime XV.

Frank, though, like so many hundreds of thousands of other young men, was soon to feel the “Call of the Skies”. He joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and was soon promoted to be Flight Sergeant Corner.

In due course, Flight Sergeant Corner joined 106 Squadron, stationed at Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, just south east of Lincoln itself. Here is the old gymnasium, still left after all these years:

Metheringham_Gymnaxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Here is the building used to practice dropping bombs accurately:

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And here is the beautifully maintained Memorial Garden:

1280px-RAF_Metheringham_Memorial_Garden

Frank was the Flight Engineer in an Avro Lancaster Mark III. Its squadron letters were Z-NH and its serial number was NE150.
Operating in the direct aftermath of D-Day the bomber took off from Metheringham at twenty five minutes past midnight on June 7th 1944. It was tasked with bombing Coutances, a beautiful little town just south west of Caen in Normandy.

Just give you an idea of the numbers involved, the “The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book” by Chris Everitt and Martin Middlebrook reveals that:

“there was a total of 1,065 aircraft, made up of 589 Lancasters, 418 Halifaxes, and 58 Mosquitos.  They were to bomb the lines of communication behind the D-Day battle area. All of the targets were in or near French towns. 3,488 tons of bombs were dropped on targets at Achères, Argentan, Caen, Châteaudun, Conde sur Noireau, Coutances, St Lô, Lisieux and Vire. Every effort was made to bomb accurately but casualties to the French civilians were inevitable. Cloud affected the accuracy of the bombing at many of the targets and, at Achères, the Master Bomber ordered the raid to be abandoned because of cloud and no bombs were dropped. 10 Lancasters and 1 Halifax were lost in these raids; 6 of the Lancasters were lost in the No 5 Group raid at Caen, where the main force of bombers had to wait for the target to be properly marked and then fly over an area full of German units and guns at bombing heights below 3,000ft. Some details are available of the effects of the bombing. At Argentan, Châteaudun and Lisieux, much damage was done to railways, although the towns, Lisieux in particular, were hit by many bombs. Important bridges at Coutances were badly damaged and the town centres of Caen, Condé sur Noireau, St-Lô and Vire were all badly bombed and most of the roads through those towns were blocked.
….19 aircraft were minelaying in the Brest area, and 26 aircraft on Resistance operations. No aircraft lost.

Total effort for the night: 1,160 sorties, 11 aircraft (0.9 per cent) lost.”

lanc crash

Alas, young Frank Corner was one of that minuscule 0.9%. His bomber was shot down and crashed near the tiny village of St Jean de Daye:

dAYE

On June 11th 1944, the Wing Commander of 106 Squadron actually sent a report to the Air Ministry, explaining that the crew of Z-NH had been told to bomb bridges in Caen. This is thought possibly to explain why the aircraft finally came down near St Jean de Daye. They had been hit by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, where a worker at the railway yard remembers how the German gunners celebrated the fact that they had shot down a bomber.

Frank was just twenty one years old when he died. His service number was 222039 and his parents were Captain Leonard Leslie Corner and Florence Edna Corner, of Whiston, Yorkshire.

Frank is buried in the War Cemetery in Bayeux, in Calvados, Normandy, France along with 3,805 other war casualties. He has paid with his young life the price of our freedom:

ddday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Wolves of Paris

I have always thought that France was fairly unlucky as a country to have been ravaged over the centuries by various Beasts, the majority of which nobody has been able to identify with 100% certainty.  They have all been dismissed as merely oversized wolves, perhaps with attitude problems, but, somehow, I just cannot agree with that. Too many people who saw wolves perhaps three or four times a week were completely puzzled when they saw the Beast of Gévaudan, for example:

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Or when they saw the Beast of Benais or the Beast of Sarlat or the Beast of Auxerrois/ Trucy or the others whose individual blogposts I have not yet launched out into “Le Monde du Blogging”. Creatures such as the Beast of Lyonnais or the Beast of Cévennes/Gard/Vivarais or the Beast of Caen and Chaigny or the Beast of Orléans or the Beast of Veyreau. The Beast of Cinglais or the Beast of Gâtinais. The blood splattered list goes on.
What I did not realise, though, is that there are completely documented and wholly accepted  historical accounts which detail attacks on Paris by wolves. And not just one wolf or even one pack of wolves. These were a whole series of large scale attacks by animals which broke all of our present day rules of how to be a politically correct wolf. They gleefully attacked and ate people. French people. Parisians:

Iberian Wolf alpha male feeding on deer, its mouth tinted with f

The first wolf invasion came during the winter of 1419-1420. Over Europe as a whole, the weather that winter was unbelievably cold. In the east, in what is now Turkey, the Bosphorus was completely frozen over and it was possible to walk over the ice from Üsküdar to Istanbul, which was then called Constantinople.

In Western Europe, virtually all of France had already been made wretched by the debilitating effects of the Hundred Years War which was to last, rather inaccurately, 116 years, from 1337–1453:

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The winter of 1419-1420 was equally severe over the whole country with very low temperatures and copious amounts of snow falling for prolonged periods. Paris was occupied by the English and the famine there was so great that unfortunate Parisians spent all of their daylight hours wandering around just searching for food. Numerous packs of wolves, as hungry as the people, advanced into the suburbs of the capital, which was now just a vast, frozen wasteland. The River Seine froze over and people could cross over from one side to the other without problem:

hiver-paris-1891

Two years later, in 1421-1422, there was another winter of  almost unbelievable severity. Wolves again entered the city. Every night they roamed around the streets of Paris, dug up recently buried corpses in the local graveyards and ate them. Anybody who tried to intervene was ripped to pieces and eaten, presumably, as a second course. Any wolves which were killed were strung up in the streets by their back legs the following morning, as a perhaps, slightly over optimistic warning to the rest.

It was so cold during this winter that bottles of wine, grape juice and vinegar froze in the cellars of Parisian houses and in some cases icicles formed on the vaults of cellar roofs. The River Seine, which had previously been in spate, froze over in less than three days and the ice quickly became firm enough to walk on. On January 12th 1422, there began in the French capital what was considered at the time to be the most severe spell of cold ever experienced by man.
The River Seine froze completely throughout its entire length. Wells froze after four days. This harsh cold persisted for almost three weeks. To compound Parisian misery, a couple of days before the beginning of this extremely cold weather, there had been a heavy snowfall. Because of the severity of this snow and the subsequent extreme cold, people were completely unable to work. Instead, they resorted to jumping games, playing ball and other vigorous activities to keep warm. The freezing conditions were so intense that the ice in the streets and public squares persisted until March 25th. It was so cold that on the heads of cockerels and hens, their combs froze:

cockerel

Equally surprisingly, there were no wolves reported in Paris during the extremely harsh winter of 1433-1434. The big freeze began on December 31st 1433 and then lasted for nine days short of three months. After this, another severely cold period followed, from March 31st 1434 until April 17th 1434. Just as a comparison, during this particular winter, the entire River Thames in England had frozen completely solid from December to February and remained completely impassable to shipping.
The wolves, though, were back with a vengeance in the second Parisian “Winter of the Wolf”, “L’Hiver du Loup”.  This came in 14371438, when the weather was equally, if not more, glacial.
The River Seine again froze over completely and packs of wolves wandered into the French capital, roaming the streets in search of food. Here is an anachronistic photo of the River Seine, frozen over in 1437.  How can you tell that, mon cher Sherlock?

Seine-gelée-paris-1893

In actual fact, there had been five unbelievably cold winters in succession over the whole of the European continent, and this was the last of the five. In England, the famine was so severe from 1437-39 that it was second only to the worst years ever in 1315-1317. These latter years were so wet that virtually all the nation’s crops failed and as many as 10% of the population may have eventually perished, in a decade characterised by crime, disease, mass death and cannibalism.

From 1437-1439, though, the winter cold was such that the English people in the countryside  were driven to attempt to make bread from fern roots and ivy berries. An unbelievably prudent Mayor of London had avoided this situation in the capital by importing a good supply of rye from Prussia. This may have been Mayor William Estfeld (1437) or Mayor Robert Large (1439) but personally I would go for Stephen Broun the Grocer (1438).

The only record of wolves in Paris which I have been able to trace during these three years of 1437-1439 came as early as the last week of the month of September 1439, when a desperate pack entered the city in search of fresh meat. They ripped out the throats of around fourteen people and duly devoured them. This occurred in the area between Montmartre in the north of the city:

monty

And the Porte Saint-Antoine in the east, right next to the Bastille prison:

antony

From 1450-1850, and possibly beyond that, into the early years of the twentieth century, the so-called Little Ice Age held sway over Europe. In 1457-1458 in Germany, for example, extreme cold froze the Danube River to such a thickness that an army of 40,000 men was able to camp on the ice. Two years, later during the winter of 1459-1460, the entire Baltic Sea was frozen and people could cross between Denmark, Germany and Sweden both on foot and on horseback:

basltiv

In France, the most severe weather came right at the beginning of the Little Ice Age during their very worst winter of 1449-1450. During this period the weather in France was very wet, extremely cold, and there were, consequently, huge quantities of snow. Indeed, the winter had begun as early as October 1449, when large numbers of olive trees began to die of the cold across the whole country.

It was during this exceptional winter that Paris became the victim of its most famous attack by man-eating wolves, “des loups anthropophages” (a very useful mouthful, should you ever need the phrase on holiday, or perhaps wish to prove your sobriety to a French police officer).

This pack, “The Wolves of Paris”, (Oh somebody, form a Heavy Metal Band…the name is crying out for it!), “Les Loups de Paris”, are thought to have killed and eaten large numbers of hapless human victims of all ages over the course of the winter. The animals initially entered Paris through the very large holes in its dilapidated city walls, which had been built some 250 years previously in the early 13th century. Of course, the original builder, King Philippe Auguste, had intended the walls to protect the city from human invaders rather than animal predators:

wolf pack one

The leader of the pack was a wolf named “Courtaud” which means “Bobtail”, as he had a tail which had been “docked” or shortened in some unknown incident. The descriptions of “Courtaud” at the time said that he was reddish in colour, not really a pigment that you would expect in a pure 100% common, Eurasian or Middle Russian forest wolf as the subspecies canis lupus lupus is variously known across Europe.  Suggestions have been made that its unusual colour was because it was an Iberian Wolf canis lupus signatus on its holidays from Spain, but there is a problem with that. As far as I can see, the Iberian Wolf is not particularly reddish. Here he is. Just look at that blood:

Iberian Wolf alpha male feeding on deer, its mouth tinted with f

According to the Wikipedia entry in the link above, canis lupus signatus has a lighter build than the European Wolf, some white marks on the upper lips, dark marks on the tail and a pair of dark marks in its front legs. There is no mention of red.
Don’t get me started, but my explanation for all those various Beasts (bêtes féroces, bêtes dévorantes ou bêtes anthropophages) which ravaged France over the centuries now comes into its own. I believe that they were members of a more aggressive, larger and now extinct species of wolf. If any unusual colour is mentioned for La Bête du Gévaudan, La Bête de Cinglais, La Bête de Caen, La Bête du Lyonnais or La Bête du Vivarais, it is always, exclusively, red. And, as we have just seen, Courtaud too had fur of this colour.

That is why I just do not believe that ordinary wolves were responsible for these blood spattered killings. And anyway, aren’t ordinary wolves a friendly looking bunch of chaps? They would not dream of eating anybody:

621166__the-wolf-pack_p

At first, there were around twenty wolves in the Parisian pack and they killed dozens of people. Gradually, wolf numbers built up, and the list of victims grew longer and longer. In the first month, supposedly around forty people perished, with a total kill for the whole winter of several hundred. They included, for the most part, anybody the wolves found wandering around the city at night, or any individuals who were outside sleeping rough. Inevitably, the inhabitants of Paris in that winter of 1449-1450 were swept by a feeling of total panic. Attempts to kill the wolves in their dens were totally ineffective. The wolves became so self confident that they often enjoyed a sing-song on their way back from the pub:

singing

Eventually, though, Parisians became increasingly enraged that it was no longer safe to walk the streets of their beautiful city. Furious at all the deaths, a brave group of volunteers found a couple of unwanted cows and killed them. Then they set off, dragging the mutilated corpses along behind them on ropes, so that they left a bloodied trail. Eventually, the wolves began to follow the scent, and slowly, slowly,  Courtaud and his bloodthirsty colleagues were lured and prodded into the very heart of the city:

map

When the wolves reached the Ile de la Cité (middle of the map), they arrived at the large square in front of the cathedral of Notre Dame, which is called the Parvis Notre Dame. Here they were trapped, surrounded by pre-prepared wooden barricades. Here is Notre Dame cathedral. See if you can spot the hunchback:Notre_Dame_de_Paris_DSC_0846w

And here is the large square in front of the cathedral, which is really quite extensive in size. I wouldn’t like to have chased a pack of wolves across here:

parvis-Notre-Dame

Finally, the angry Parisians stoned and speared the entire pack, until every single wolf was dead. Courtaud was paraded dead around the city in a cart, pulled by the triumphant crowd. Here is one of those bizarre modern art exhibitions which was held in Paris recently. I don’t suppose it’s Courtaud and his pals from 1449-1450, but I do hope that no real wolves died to make it:

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I do not really believe that Paris’ historical scrapes with wolves have necessarily finished. Grey wolves were completely extirpated from France in the 1920s and 1930s, but ten years ago they started entering the country again from Italy. There are now around 300 wolves in France and the farmers allege that they have killed more than 6,000 sheep in the last twelve months. The woods around Paris are well stocked with deer and boar and they would make an ideal hunting ground for wolves. Indeed, this year, wolves have been sighted just 40 miles from the city:

wolves
Presumably preparing the Parisian populace for the latest lupine invasion, there are a number of different books available, all of which are all entitled “The Wolves of Paris”:

The first is by Michael Wallace:

“It’s the winter of 1450 and Paris is in a panic. A pack of ravenous wolves is loose in the city, feasting on human flesh. Lorenzo Boccaccio is summoned by a Dominican inquisitor who….”

The second is by Daniel P Mannix and a reviewer promises:

“an extraordinary story with verve and deft pacing. In the reading of what is a tale of high drama, building remorselessly to the climax…”

After that remorseless climax, where next, but the boxset by Lance Roddick, also available in separate sections:

gay wolves of paris

One of the sections has a wonderful review:

“The book started off talking about the hard times France was going through.”

You don’t say!

If you can, always finish a blogpost with a song. And what else could it be except…

 

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