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French town's lasting tribute to air crew
A HAMPSHIRE woman was surprised and moved by a French town’s tribute to her late father and his comrades whose bombers crashed on the outskirts of their community in 1944.
Beryl Hayes, 77, the daughter of rear gunner, Edward Wicks, was among the relatives invited to Laval to unveil memorials to the crews of two aircraft shot down four days after D-Day.
Mrs Hayes, from Romsey, and other descendants of the crew of Halifax MZ 532 lifted a Union flag to reveal a stone monument to the airmen, bearing their names and photos. The stone stands on the spot in a field at St Berthevin, where the plane crashed at 21 minutes past midnight on June 10, 1944. Australian Pilot Officer Thomas Henderson, had made sure his stricken craft came down well away from the homes of civilians.
“It’s a brilliant memorial” said Mrs Hayes, “The people of the town said they would never ever forget them.”
Mrs Hayes explained that the ceremony came as a surprise to her. She had travelled to Laval for the first time in 2011 to see her father’s grave, which stands in a small and beautifully tended cemetery, and she thought this month’s 70th anniversary commemorations would be held there.
“I didn’t know anything about the new memorial,” she said.
Mrs Hayes said that the families of the airmen were given the VIP treatment during their visit and were greeted by a brass band and standard- bearers.
The two bombers were on a mission to destroy marshalling yards at Laval when they were hit by anti aircraft fire. By rights Edward Wicks should not have been aboard the plane having been invalided out of the RAF earlier in the war. He was the sole survivor of a Wellington bomber crash in Nigeria.
A silversmith by trade, Edward returned to his family in Romsey and worked for a few months at Strong’s brewery in the town before re-enlisting. At 33 he was old for a rear gunner – one of the riskiest positions aboard a bomber.
Edward is buried with Pilot Officer Norman R Anderson, the navigator, as their bodies could not be separated after the crash.
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