Friday, June 13, 2014

FRANCE | June 10–Remembering Airmen Downed 70 Years Ago

At the Air Force band concert on
June 9, the two crews, of the MZ 532
and the MZ 684, were displayed
on the screen above the musicians.
L to R: Deborah and Dr. Rex
Henderson by the grave of Rex's
father Tom, pilot of the MZ 532.
This and all following photos by
JT Marlin.
The memorials in honor of the 14 downed airmen at Vaufleury Cemetery on May 8, 2011 were more elaborate than this year.

That is because they were part of a larger celebration of V-E Day, the end of hostilities in Europe in 1945, and the Town of Laval turned out in large numbers.

But this year's memorial on June 10 was unquestionably more special for the family members who came. (Missing from 2011 were Nicola and Robin Sumner; Robin is the nephew of Daniel Gilbert.
2011 -  L to R: Nicola and Robin Sumner (nephew of Daniel Gilbert), Cpl Pamela Turney (great-niece of Fred Beales), Luke Shergold (son of Suzanne), Michael Hayes (Beryl's husband), Beryl Hayes (daughter of Edward Wicks), Martin Clegg (Suzanne's husband), Suzanne Clegg (Beryl's daughter), Ashley Shergold (Suzanne's son), John Tepper Marlin (nephew of Willem van Stockum), Silvia and John Ellyatt (son of John Elyatt).

Crew members of the MZ 532 as
shown on the monument (stele) at
St. Berthevin.
One reason is that in 2014 the memorial has been entirely focused on the airmen who crashed on that date in 1944. Those who were at the cemetery were there for one reason, to honor the two crews of the Halifax bombers that were shot down nearby on June 10, 1944.

Another reason this year was special is that the families of six crew members were represented by their families - one more crew member than in 2011. Also, 20 family members showed up to pay their respects, eight more than in 2011.

This year, three crew members from each plane were represented by family.

In 2011, from the St. Berthevin-crash plane, MZ 532, only Sgt. Edward C. ("Eddy") Wicks had family there.

Representatives of the families of Sgt.Wicks (on left) and Sgt.
Brotherton (on right), whose younger brother and three
more generations attended in 2014 for the first time.
This year, the pilot of the MZ 532, Australian P/O Thomas W. (Tom) Henderson was also represented by his son, Dr. Rex Henderson and Rex's wife Deborah, who came from Australia for the occasion. Sgt. Leslie Brotherton was represented by four generations - his younger brother, daughter and other family members.

From the plane that crashed in Entrammes, the MZ 684, three crew members were represented again, as they were in 2011 - the pilot, Dr. Willem J. van Stockum, F/O John Ellyatt by his son, and Sgt. Fred Beales by his great-niece Cpl. Pamela Turney, who was in the uniform of the Canadian Forces Air Command.

Crew members of the plane that
crashed in Entrammes, the MZ 684.
John Tepper Marlin, nephew of F/O
Dr. Willem J. van Stockum (pilot of
the MZ 684), and wife Alice Tepper
Marlin.  Photo w JTM camera.
The MZ 684 crew is of interest for a number of reasons. The plane included four Flying Officers, which in the anglophone military is equivalent to an army rank of Lieutenant. A Pilot Officer is equivalent to a 2nd Lieutenant.

The MZ 532, by contrast, had two Pilot Officers, the rest being Sergeants. In other words, the MZ 684 had twice as many officers aboard.

Cpl. Pamela Turney next to
the marker of her great-uncle,
Sgt. Fred Beales.
My uncle Willem van Stockum's grave site is marked as both Canadian and Dutch. Dutch, because he was a citizen of Holland (his grave marker is different from the other 13 because it was provided after the others were in place, by the Dutch Government). Canadian, because he was seconded from the RCAF, where he had been an instructor in flying the Halifax bomber. He is also variously identified in those who have written about him as Scottish (his Ph.D. in physics was from Edinburgh), Irish (graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, where he met my mother and father), and American (he was teaching mathematics at the University of Maryland when World War II broke out and was previously a fellow at the ).

Van Stockum's work as a mathematician, utilizing Einstein's equations, has earned him a place in the history of time travel and the father of scientific approaches to the subject. Dr. Robert Wack, an Army Major and pediatrician, has written a science-fiction novel, Time Bomber, centered on van Stockum's life and death.

View of gravesite looking away from the
flag - the MZ 684 end of the site. At left
is M. Cousineau of the Canadian Embassy
 in Paris, who attended with his wife.
At the ceremonies on June 10, representatives of the embassies of Australia and Canada were in attendance. Each embassy has several military attaches who travel to pay respects to nationals of their countries who died in prior wars and are buried in France.


If someone from the Dutch Government ever attends an event at Vaufleury, it would be good for them to know that when they asked my mother what she wanted on the tombstone, her answer was: "Greater love hath no man..."

It would be nice if this request were some day honored, especially since the Dutch Government wrote to my mother to ask what she wanted inscribed. The minister who officiated at the ceremony on June 10 cited that exact quote...

For those unfamiliar with Anglophone military ranks, the following guide may be helpful:
NaviesArmiesAir forces
Admiral of
the fleet
Marshal or
Field marshal
Marshal of
the air force
AdmiralGeneralAir chief marshal
Vice admiralLieutenant generalAir marshal
Rear admiralMajor generalAir vice-marshal
CommodoreBrigadierAir commodore
CaptainColonelGroup captain
CommanderLieutenant colonelWing commander
Major or
Squadron leader
LieutenantCaptainFlight lieutenant
Sub-lieutenantLieutenantFlying officer
Pilot officer

Seamen, soldiers and airmen
Warrant officerSergeant major
Warrant officer
Warrant officer
Petty officerSergeantSergeant
Leading seamanCorporalCorporal
SeamanPrivateAircraft man

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