July and August in France
Map showing the Beauvais area with the key locations marked
Having been fatally hit by a ME110 night fighter on the way home from St Leu d'Esserent, the aircraft crashed at the southern end of the village of Laversines, a couple of kilometres east of Beauvais and a similar idstance west of Bresles at around 1:50am on the morning of 5th July 1944.
The following is taken from the IS9 debrief of my Father, marked "Secret" at the time, but is now in the National Archives, on his return to the UK and is dated 4th September 1944.
I left DUNHOLME LODGE in a Lancaster 1 at 2300 hrs on 4 Jul 44. I baled out at BRESLES at 0200 hrs on 5 Jul. I put my parachute, harness and mae west in a ditch.
I joined the BRESLES-BEAUVAIS road and there was met by a boy on a bicycle who had already picked up my engineer, Sgt. ROBINSON.
By a mis-understanding we lost the French boy and walked for about 2 hours across country until we came to a disused barn where we stayed for the rest of the night.
The boy found us again next day and brought a Frenchman with clothes for us. We were taken by horse and cart to police quarters at BRESLES and hidden for 9 days. We visited the wreckage of the aircraft.
On 13 Jul 44 we moved to Haudeviller (sic) where we remained with a family who were members of the Resistance movement. I went out collecting guns dropped by parachute and helped to clean them until American troops arrived.
My engineer moved to a village called AGENCOURT, near CLERMONT and I have not heard of him since.
From subsequent research I believe the gendarme from Bresles who helped my father was a Mr Jean Roudiere. I thank you, and everyone else involved in keeping him safe in 1944, with all my heart.
Other names that have come up in research are Baron Alfred Dunbar-Schultz (probably a resistance chief from Montataire), Charles Wattelle (a gendarme from Montataire), Gilbert Thibault (from Auneuil, the leader of the local escape line, in connection with Comete and Shelburn) and Roger Barrier (or Barier) of escape groupe "Theo". I hope to add more detail as I find it.
It seems like my father and Bill Robinson never met again after they were separated and I have been able to find no trace of him at all since that point. I do know he did make it back to the UK but his IS9 report is missing from the files. Clermont is just to the east of Bresles, and there is a small hamlet called Angicourt nearby which is likely to be what was meant. Agencourt is much further south, beyond Paris and some distance from another Clermont.
Time with the FFI
The family mentioned in the IS9 report who hid my father for most of July and all of August 1944 is the Pelletier family who were then renting a house in the hamlet of Haudivillers having been forced out of their family home in Bonlier, north east of Beauvais, which was very close to a German FLAK battery protecting the local airfield. The airfield, which was a satellite of the fighter base at Tille, which is now Beauvais airport, was under pretty much constant attack by the Allies from the air and the house in Bonlier was just too dangerous to stay in.
Dad was with the Pelletier's for just a few short weeks, but built a friendship there that would last the rest of his life. During his stay he had his 21st birthday and racalled that he woke to find his room covered in flowers.
He was given false papers, which identified him as Jacques Ledoux. The cover was he was their slightly simple cousin from the south. Dad's lack of French meant if he was spoken to he would just smile and nod.
Abel Pelletier had been in the Resistance since it had been formed and the elder of his eight children were also involved. Francis Pelletier, the eldest son, was arrested and imprisoned by the Germans but escaped and survived the war and now lives in southern France. Ginette would carry messages between the groups as the Germans were less likely to stop a woman and still lives in Beauvais. The rest of the children were too young to take an active role. Moise, Jacqueline and Jacques have all passed on, but Bernard, Denise and Janine are all still living in the Beauvais area, Denise and Janine still in Bonlier.
The house in Haudivillers could have been built for the purpose of hiding downed airmen. It sits opposite the church in the village and has a long walled garden, the rear half of which was sold off and had workshops built on it after the war.
Underneath the house is a huge cellar and a tunnel which in the war years ran the length of the garden to the back wall of the property. Just behind the house is a path leading to a wooded area.
The airmen were told to stay quiet, specially if there was a knock at the door, and to get out down the tunnel and over the wall, into the woods as fast as they could if they had too. The all clear would be given by a ring on the village church bell by the Priest, who was aware of what was happening in the village.
At the time my Father was in the house there was at least one other airman there too, an American fighter pilot who was nicknamed "Guy Petit" and possibly another RAF man too. It also was briefly shared with a German prisoner, an old soldier who asked the Resistance to keep him safe during the fighting for the area. Bernard Pelletier recalled that he had boots that were almost worn out.
In 2006 I was lucky enough to regain contact with Ginette Pelletier who was 20 in 1944 and was actively working with the French Resistance. Here is some of what she has told me of my Father's time with the family which seems to have been mostly a good time but fraught with extreme danger for all involved.
Some of this contradicts the IS9 report on dates as my father had aleady been in France for 9 days when he arrived, would have been in civilian clothes and had long since ditched his parachute. This is likely to be the result of the intevening 60+ years on memory.
Jack arrived at our place in the middle of the night with an American fighter pilot who crashed very close from our home. It has to be said that there were plenty of anti aircraft guns near the Tillé Airfield which had been enlarged up to our village called Bonlier. My parents owned a large wood that the Germans had turned into a fighter base, the runways and parts of the hangars could still be seen a few years ago, but nowadays there is a motorway there.
Upon their arrival, we offered them civilian clothes. Your dad was very calm whereas the American was exactly the opposite and we named him “Guy”. Both were told to hide when a stranger would come to the house and by all means not talk. We were in a great mansion which was surrounded by walls and had an underground passage.
Guy Petit crashed the same day as your father in a place called Oroër, just north of Bonliers and Guignecourt on the N1 road. Both arrived at the house with their parachutes and uniforms. We hid the material under the wooden floor in the attic. After the war, we used the linen to make shirts. Both your father and Guy spent many hours making a model of their respective planes to pass the time. Guy was a fighter pilot.
We had left our village, as it was bombed every night and we used to live right in the middle of the German airfield. The runways were at the end of our entrance path and the Flak batteries were 500 meters away. This place was Bonlier, a village your father went to when he visited us in 1951. The place were we spent time together was Haudivillers. Jacques and Guy enjoyed French cuisine; we didn’t suffer from any shortage because there were many farmers around us. I was at home all the time, as I was an Liaison Agent in the Resistance, a situation which did not get me any glory.
When Jack arrived, it was like we had always known each other. I could speak fairly well English and German, which helped a lot. With Jack a complicity started from the very first day. We got on perfectly well, it was a wonderful friendship. There was never a gesture or a word which would have been out of place.
With Guy things were different, he was a real Texan, and I had to look after him all the time. He was a fire brand fighter, although he was charming. We used to live in a large house. The house was surrounded by walls, which allowed some liberty of movement for both airmen. They had to share the space with my brothers and sisters. I was aware that both of them were anxiously waiting for the evenings, because this was the time they could go for a walk, as soon the sun was set.
In the evening, after checking that there was nobody on the street, I took both airmen by their hand and we went for a walk in the moonlight until the edge of the wood. All three of us used to take a little path which would take us to the forest. While Guy was leaping about like a mad horse, your father and I would sit down on a slope and talk and talk. Sometimes, your father kept quiet and his look had no expression. I don’t believe he was unhappy. Maybe he was during some evenings, when I had to leave and take part to special operations and picked up parachutes. We received weapons, chewing-gum and cigarettes. I still smoke now that I am 81, despite the high prices in France.
Once we were there Jack and I would have endless talks. We spent wonderful times at the edge of this wood, except when I had to attend a parachuting or when I had to go with other airmen or civilians who were trying to reach England. Jacques never knew what I was doing. Those days, the less people knew, the better it was. However he was clever and I believe he understood a lot, especially as we were listening to the BBC. It was a terrible risk and I did not want to get both of them involved in this, especially because Guy was terribly careless. I had two experiences of this.
One night I heard knocking on the shutter of Guy’s room. I rushed towards him. He was just about to open the shutters with his headphones on! (These were from radios we got from parachuting operations). The men who knocked were German soldiers who were lost.
One night as I came back from a mission, I checked the room and realised it was empty. I started looking in the house, the yard, and I began walking to the wood where I didn’t find anybody. Then I went looking in the street and walked by a Café in the village where Guy was playing pool! I walked in, I grabbed him by the arm, without saying a word, but once we were home it was different. He must still remember the way I shouted at him, especially as three days later, three German soldiers came to get me and asked who this mute civilian was. Fortunately he had remembered his briefing and had not talked in public.
This is how Guy was. I liked him despite his failings. After I received his picture I have not received a lot of news from him.
One day, the Germans rushed in and Jack did not have the time to hide. I told them he was my cousin and that he was deaf and dumb. Jack played his role perfectly and everything went well.
With Jack things were fine. He could cope with everything. When he came back to visit in 1951, it was as if he had only been away for a few hours.
With Renee things were similar. It was as if we had always known each other. We were a real family. His only regret was not to have a child. How proud he was when I got a picture with him holding a baby in his arms! During those long evenings he told me about his wish to have a son and a daughter. How happy I was when I got his letter in which he told me his wishes had been fulfilled!
Haudivillers was liberated by American forces on the 31st August 1944 but not without a fight. The commander of the first American tank to enter the village was shot in the head in the town square when he opened the hatch. One of the Resistance fighters, Jacques Boulanger, was also killed in the fighting, shot in the street outside the house where the Pelletier's were living and his body was brought inside the house and laid to rest on a bed.
My Father's records show that he was identified as "safe" on the 1st of September 1944.
Who was "Guy Petit"?
For a long time, the mystery American airman who stayed with the Pelletier family at the same time as my father could not be identified, not helped by some of the mistaken timings of events given by Ginettte Pelletier in her account.
In 2014 I made contact with Keith at the excellent "Conscript Heroes" website, dedicated to the memory of those that escaped and evaded during WWII and the brave people that helped them at risk of their own lives in occupied Europe. This led on to me finally getting hold of the IS9 evaders report for my father, the text of which is reproduced at the top of this page.
This also led me to the records of US evaders, which are handily available online through NARA, the equalalent of the UK National Archives. Rooting through here finally led me to the identitty of "Guy".
Step forward First Lieutenant Wendell A McClure of Sweetwater, Texas, who was shot down 7 miles east of Beauvais on the 7th June 1944, P47D serial number 4226342. McClure had flown over 50 missions and was part of the 55th Fighter Group, 62nd Fighter Squadron, based at Boxted in Essex. McClure's IS9 report is available online here.
After returning to the US, he was married in December 1944 to a lady called Mackie Ferguson, who is presumably the lady in Ginette's photo reproduced above. A report of the wedding is here.
Also through the Conscript Heroes website I was contacted by Franck Signorile, who had the records of US Army interactions with the Pelletier family after the war. I am currectly having these translated.
These also show that the Pelletier family helped the crew of a USAAF B17 bomber shot down on the 17th April 1944, skippered by Second Lieutenant Andrew G Claytor. After a few days with the Pelletier's several men from this crew ended up hiding in Freteval forest, as part of a large group of evading airmen awaiting the arrival of Allied trops after the invasion. This is a whole book in itself but a flavour of what went on can be found here.
Claytor's evaders report at NARA is here and contains a detailed handwritten account of the crew's "adventures". In this he mentions talking to one of the Pelletier's sons who had been arrested by the Germans and escaped, who has to have been Francis Pelletier.
My return visit to France in June 2006
In June 2006 my son James and I made an emotional return to Beauvais to meet the remaining Pelletier's. Remco Immerzeel joined us to act as interpreter, and I am very grateful to him for his help before and during the day.
Bernard took us to see the house in Haudivillers (pictures above) and the current owners invited us in to see the cellar where my father and "Guy Petit" hid when necessary, which was very kind of them.
We then travelled with Bernard and Ginette to visit Marissel National Military Cemetery and pay our respects to the six crewmen that were not so lucky as my father on the night of the 5th July 1944. The cemetary is perfectly kept as you can see from the pictures below and a haven of quiet peace in the middle of the modern town of Beauvais.
We then had lunch with Ginette, Bernard and his family, three generations.
In the afternoon went to Bonlier to meet Denise and Janine and to pay our respects to Abel who rests in the cemetary there.