Steeple Morden, England
Home base for the 355th Fighter Group. Included within that group also were the 354th, 357th and 358th Fighter Squadrons.
On June 8, 1944, at 1424 (2:24 PM), Lt. Donovan, piloting aircraft YF-K Mary-Joyce, took off from his air base Station F-122. (named after his 18 month old daughter)
Lt. Robert Peters and Lt. Thomas Meteyer completed the flight element of four P-51 Mustangs.
The mission that day for the 358th Fighter Squadron was called "Fighter Sweep" on the mainline railroad from Bordeaux to Tours in German-Occupied France.
I wonder what he was thinking in this photo? Did he know his day was coming? This photo was taken between June 6th and 8th, 1944. He was only twenty-six years old and climbed into that Mustang just about every day. Pushing whatever fear there was aside, he did his job... fighting The Nazi's.
(In the background photo you are looking at Dad in 0790. The aircraft is a Douglas A-24 Banshee. This is during his training in the states before shipping out to England).
These are the words of Lt. Coleman, dad's wing man on this mission: "After arriving in the area, we shot up a radio station. After that we started working over a main railway line on the way home. After about ten minutes we caught what appeared to be a freight train sitting on the tracks and proceeded to strafe it. On the second pass, Lt. Donovan called out that he had been hit and needed to bailout. I called back to him to hold it and try opening his coolant and oil shutter doors. I then pulled up on his wing. I noticed that the coolant doors were open and coolant was streaming out. Lt. Donovan then called it was no use and was bailing out. He waved goodbye to me, got rid of his canopy and rolled his ship on his back. He cleared his ship at approximately 2500 feet and opened his shoot at 1500 feet. I last saw him as he landed in a small field near a patch of woods."
Lt. Coleman was killed in action eleven days later.
Pop and Sgt. Ziesmer standing on the wing of "Yuppie's Hazel". This plane later became "Mary-Joyce".
That's Pop in 488A. Again, another A-24, training in the US before deploying to Europe.
In the department of Charente, in the southwest region near Bordeaux, is a small town called Chalais. (Chateau de Chalais photo P. Castandet)
In 1987, Dad shared his story at their 45th wedding anniversary party and luckily the camera was rolling. I transcribed his words below.
(photo P. Castandet)
I served mass. We had an English priest come into our base. I was the alter boy. We went out on a Sunday afternoon.
Dad remembered going to mass but it wasn't Sunday. June 8th, 1944, it was a Thursday, the Feast of the Corpus Christi.
The locomotive stopped underneath a highway overpass. I came down the tracks and hit 'em. Then they hit me.
Dad thought the flack came from the train but it really came from the tower of the Chateau de Chalais. The roof has been modified sense 1944.
Dad was able to get his aircraft to a safe altitude to bailout. As he floated to the ground he spotted the woods where he ultimately would hide; however, the Germans on the ground spotted him and were heading his way.
He landed in a field in this small farming community of Le But. It had very few inhabitants in 1944. Mr. Andre Tassot, the fiancé of Mme. Yvonne Dubreuil, was the first person Dad confronted. With too many Germans around it was risky to help the American. Pop was on his own. Despite this he was somehow able to get civilian clothes from one of the families.
Mr. Poineau lived only 500 meters from the spot Dad landed in his parachute. Pierre told me he learned a lot from him. (More information and an introduction will follow shortly about Pierre.)
The Mustang was hit in the town of Chalais. It crashed in a fiery wreck in a farm field just to the north in Mountboyer.
(photo P. Castandet)
That is where Dad met Jacques Rougier. Then only 14 years old, Jacques was able to direct him to a hiding spot in the woods. He stayed in hiding until it got dark and the Germans appeared to give up their search. At times, Dad said, the German's got so close he could actually hear them talking.
Via email Jacques explained how he helped my Dad. To communicate they used gestures and drawings on the ground where Dad suggested heading west toward the Atlantic coast. Instead, Jacques steered him east where there were less Germans and more French Resistance.
Jacques passed away in 2014. Though I was unable to have the chance to meet him and thank him for all that he did for Dad in person, I am grateful we were able to connect and correspond via email.
I stayed with your father for 5 or 6 hours. At about 10 o'clock he left.
For many years, Jacques tried to find out who this American pilot was that he met in the field on that fateful day of June 8th, 1944. Thanks to the internet his search paid off. A veterans organization in France told him there was a young man from Libourne also searching for information on that pilot that crashed in the area. That young man was Pierrie-Baptiste Castandet.
I am so grateful that Pierre took an interest in Dad's story. He is the one responsible for all of this research and contributed photos in France. Pierre talked to witnesses that personally showed him the spot where Dad's plane ended up. He also mailed me a small piece of the plane, a relic, that he collected from that site.
The plane came down in this field.
The crash site from a different angle.
Just another 100 yards and the plane would have crashed into this house.
Rene Sallier was a young man working as a carpenter during that time when he heard the gunfire. He hopped on his bike and rode to the scene. Rene had heard that the people in the area gave Dad a change of clothes. That would explain why Jacques said Dad had on a blue shirt when he met him.
By the time Rene got to the crash site he found the Germans there standing around the burning plane.
They had a guard on the bridge. So I swam across a little river.
An aerial picture showing reference points.
Another picture of the field where the plane came down.
That night I went into a barn and I climbed up in a loft. I crawled around until I found a good spot and I laid down. It was a good thing I did because that was the end of the loft. I didn't find that out until the next morning.
The next morning(day two) there was an old guy and his handicapped son in his 20's. I told them who I was and they brought me in the house.
This was Mr. Blin and his son.
They let me dry off my clothes. They showed me where I was on a map and where to go to meet the Resistance.
They fed me breakfast, and I headed towards Perigueux (Dordogne).
Pop and the 17-year-old boy from Aubeterre arrived in Mussidan on June 10th, 1944, where they met Yves Roche (real name was Yves Bouche). Yves took Pop to the Hotel Dupuy where Yves worked and there Pop met with the Regional Chief of the Resistance, Bernard. (Bernard's real name is Andre Serre.)
(photo by Patrice Rolli)
This building was at one time the "Hotel Dupuy" and now is a local bar.
He probably came across this bridge on the bike.
I spoke French, which I flunked in high school, but I passed over there. But they brought a guy in that spoke English.
This was the exam, I had to tell 'em, 1) my squadron leader's name, 2) my group commander's name, 3) my airplane number, 4) who won the last World Series, 5) what a "jitter bug" was.
This was all verified and Dad was taken in with the maquis. (French Resistance fighters called maquisards. The word can translate to "the bush" scrubland). The Nazis would send English speaking spy's to infiltrate the Resistance. This group wanted to make sure that he was really an American pilot.
June 11, 1944, Dad was moved to this house just outside the city center owned by Yves Bouche. Not far from here the Nazis massacred 52 citizens from the town including Mr. Dupuy, the hotel owner, and Raoul Grassin, the town's mayor. This was in reprisal for an attack the night before by the FTP (Les Francs-Tireurs Partisans) on a train traveling towards Normandy with German troops.
The man that deserves the credit for the information around the town of Mussidan is Patrice Rolli. Patrice is an author who has written books about World War II and the French Resistance. His most recent book includes the story about my father and the Resistance Fighters in Mussidan.
There is a memorial for the Resistance of Saint Etienne de Puycorbier ( a village near Mussidan) that Mr. Rolli was commissioned to write. This is the maquis [ma' ki] ) that welcomed Dad. Patrice knew these men.
A member of the maquis, Guy Leger recalls "David the Pilot". "It was Yves Bouche who brought me David. This American pilot came from Charentes. He stayed with us two weeks. He showed us how to use the guns we received from the Americans. He was very pious. On all the Sundays he wanting to go to mass. So Lucien Laforet escorted him to this church and stood guard at the door at while David was inside".
Pop stayed with this maquis at Domaine de Colombat (Saint Etienne-de-Puycordier) for about two weeks. Here they made him phony papers with a photo that Pop provided. Pilots carried such photos for this reason.
They traveled south to the foothills of the Pyrenee Mountains. This made my father think he was going out over the mountains into Spain. This was the way the majority of the airmen got out of France...but, not in this case.
Dad traveled by train to Toulouse via Bordeaux with Phillipe (Jean-Henri Bregi) and Yvette Breard. This was risky because the Gestapo would come on these trains looking for airmen and other enemies of the state. Dad's phony papers had him listed as a deaf mute. This way, if the Gestapo would stop and question them, he would not have to talk. That was Yvette's job. She would turn on the charm and draw the attention to her and away from him.
Dad was taken to this house, 95 Chemin de Nicol, on June 26, 1944. Bregi brought him there. A woman named Mme Garric lived there with her daughter Marcelle. He was told 6 Americans had left Toulouse that morning.
Dad waited in this house for two weeks then he was taken to another house owned by Marie-Louise Dissard (Françoise). (Villa Pamplemousse) She was not living there at the time. Marie was hiding from the Gestapo. In the house lived a widow Mme. Lamy (Andree Lamy). She was being cared for by Françoise. Her husband Rene Lamy was another notorious helper for the Françoise network. He was killed May 10, 1944 at a train station in Creil. He was there to pick up a pilot, and the Allies bombed the station.
After 5 days Phillipe took Dad to Laguepie (Tarn et Garonne) and put him with a maquis.
After Jean-Henri Bregi brought Dad to Laguepie he said he was going to Bordeaux to pick up another pilot and he would come back to get him. David worked with the maquis for one month and Bregi did not return because he was arrested on a bogus charge by the Vichy Government. So Dad decided to go off on his own. He headed north and ran into a naturalized French citizen from Australia. His name was Steven Post and he took Pop to Villefranche (Aveyron).