Wednesday, June 11, 2014

WILLEM VAN STOCKUM | Visit #3 to My Uncle Willem's Gravesite

My uncle Willem van Stockum and 13 other crew members on two Halifax bombers are buried in the Vaufleury Cemetery in Laval. This is my third visit to Laval to visit and honor the grave site:

1. December 1954. On my first visit in 1954, I was one of eight members of our family to visit my uncle's grave; his plane came down in Entrammes, on the east side of Laval. We found that the 13 other grave sites had tombstone markers from the RAF and my uncle's did not. The explanation given to my parents was that Willem was a Dutch citizen. My parents followed up to have a tombstone made for Willem by the Dutch Government, which is what happened. (The RCAF and Australian Air Force did the tombstones for Beales and Henderson apparently without any need to follow up.)

Detail of monument to the crew of the plane that crashed at
the pear farm in Entrammes. Pilot Willem van Stockum is in
 the front row, middle, in the only photo we have of him with
crew. It does not seem to correspond to all the members of the
crew actually on the MZ 684 when it crashed in 1944.
2. May 2011. On the second visit in 2011, on V-E Day (May 8), a dozen representatives of five fallen airmen were there to pay their respects, through the good sleuthing of Jean-Louis Cholet of Souvenir Francais of the Mayenne, Jean-Luc Peslier of the AMAA and RCAF Cpl Pamela Turney (great-niece of Sgt. Fred Beales). Four of the airmen represented were from the Entrammes plane, and one large family came to pay their respects to Eddy Wicks from the St. Berthevin plane - his daughter Beryl Wicks and her husband Mike Hayes and their children and grandchildren.

3. June 2014. This year, on the 70th anniversary of the downing of the two planes four days after D-Day - on their fifth mission in the space of ten days - 20 people from the families of six airmen attended, representing six of the airmen, three from the Entrammes plane my uncle was piloting, and three from the St. Berthevin plane.

Detail of monument (stele) to the crew that crashed in a field
 in St. Berthevin, NW of Laval, from the monument. The
pilot, Australian Pilot-Officer Tom Henderson, is mid-group.
Two new airmen were represented in 2014 - (1) the Australian pilot Tom Henderson by his son Rex Henderson and Rex's wife Deb, and (2) Leslie Brotherton by his younger brother Cyril and by his children Carol and Brian Thornley and their grandchildren Richard, Nick and Steve, and Leslie's  great-grandchildren, the two children of Steve and Rachel - Jonah and Isabella.

This year, two well-designed monuments were installed and unveiled at the two crash sites. The families and local children and officials left flowers in front of the graves at the Vaufleury Cemetery and also at the monuments at the crash sites.

All of the families of the airmen are grateful to the French people in Laval for showing this respect to the airmen on the 70th anniversary of the two crashes. We are especially grateful to Jean-Louis Cholet of the organization Souvenir France (France Remembers) and Jean-Luc Peslier, President of AMAA (Amicale Mayenne de l'Armee de l'Air). Three other hosts from the AMAA were Michael Guegan, who told me he has a daughter in San Francisco; Michael Fontaine; and Georges Mezieres.

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