Thursday 9 August 2012

All hail to Google!

This is thrilling, honestly. A little idle, displacement-activity googling, and what do I find? Actual photos of my father's actual aeroplane - Blenheim IV Z6163 MK-U - sitting on the sand at Saint-Efflam on 29 September 1941. With accompanying Germans gazing about wondering what has become of the crew of three - Dad, his Canadian navigator and Irish gunner. Who are possibly right at that moment hiding in the attic of a hut in the woods nearby, eating hard-boiled eggs and drinking tea with brandy in it, brought by the wonderful Mme Leduc and her daughters.

They were just the first of a whole community of French people who helped Dad and the others to escape. Most of the people they had contact with were women, but there were men behind the scenes. They fed them, moved them between all sorts of hiding places, from a cave to a chateau, arranged false papers and passports, gave them clothes, and got them to Rennes and to Nantes. Dad said they seemed to enjoy the danger; but they paid for it. Most of them were caught later, the women sent to concentration camps where they died, no doubt horribly. Georges le Bonniec, leader of the escape network who escorted them all the way on the journey to Nantes, was executed in Cologne, where the Germans cut his head off with an axe. Dad was hugely grateful to them all. So am I.

The photos are classic. Look at those bent propellers, all the splashed-up sand, those ridiculous jodhpurs on the stout German, and his nasty high-peaked cap: it's the stuff of scores of war movies - except it's real, and it was my father's life, not some story.

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