|French Citizens Remember an Ardmore Crew (1)
I am a young boy of 8. Since 6th of June (D-Day) my parents with my brother and myself have fled their home in Lisieux (Normandie - 50km east of Caen) and found shelter in the near-by country. Almost every day the sky is ploughed by American, British and German aircrafts at various altitudes, once so low that we wave each other with an R.A.F. pilot. Aerial battles are frequent.
7th August 1944
That day we witness the conflagration and fall of three aircrafts by a volley fire from a German flak. A few parachutes are seen. Many years later I shall learn the planes were Marauder B-26 from 394th Bombardment Group - 585th Bombardment Squadron. One of them (# 41-96113 / 4T-J, "Ain' t Easy", pilot: Major Clinton M. Lee) crashed near the château of the small village La Boissière (5km west of Lisieux). All crew (8 men) perished. (2,3)
Photo 1: Very likely the crew aboard #41-96113 on 7th August 1944. On this photograph, only one person is precisely identified: Captain Bjarne C. Tangen, the man in the middle who points out a feature on the map. Who could name the others?
Extracts and adaptation from " Journal de Madame André Duval...vie d' une famille de La Boissière l'été 1944" (Madame André Duval' s diary... life of a family at La Boissière during summer 1944) published by " Société historique de Lisieux - Bulletin N° 75", here reproduced with Général Michel Duval's kind authorization; translation Madame Marie-José Guillotin.
Monday, 7th of August
Soldiers (German soldiers; the village was liberated by British troops on 22nd of August and civilians keep busy only interrupted by the coming and going of planes, against which can be heard the roaring of a new large flak battery laid out in a neighboring field. The windows panes shake at every shot. A considerable number of shell-splinters are scattered all around, leaving us no choice except to get cover. While Christiane (Madame Duval’s daughter) and myself are busy installing a wardrobe on the second floor, we hear the hissing and roaring of a plane going down. Quickly we get back downstairs to reach the shelter. We are welcomed by the stretcher-bearers; they shout “Maman, avion kaputt!”. As a matter of fact, I can see one going down towards Lisieux; of course it is not the same plane. It seems to André (her husband) that he has seen another plane crashing in “Les Bruyères” (a place in an adjoining village). As soon as the uproar of the flak stops we all rush to the point of collapse, quite easy to detect thanks to the huge black smoke. The spot is situated in between a range of birch trees in the outskirts of the wood.
There we can see the plane burning. We don’t dare get closer because of continuous shells from the machine-guns still blowing up. For sure it is not the right moment to reach the bomber. Unfortunately it is too late to help the unlucky airmen, either they have been killed by the flak when the plane was destroyed or they are entirely charred. We go back home, upset and awfully sad, keeping in mind this tragedy in our vicinity. After lunch we decide to get along with our installation when we are shocked by a violent explosion, certainly it is a bomb which has exploded owing to the fire. In any case it is not the time to come up to the plane.
Tuesday, 8th of August
The day after, early in the morning, we go back to the site. The crashed plane lies unrecognizable, in a ravaged field. Already a group of persons is there. With sticks they are picking up shapeless human remnants and heaping them. The remains are scattered all around in a radius of about 300 metres. We can see hands, arms, charred bones gathered in a silk-made parachute, half burned. What a dreadful and horrible scene. We go back home to bring back a bed-sheet and the cart drove by an ass. We also collect pitch forks and tweezers to enable us to end this gruesome task.
Our group of 8 or 10 people tries during two hours or so to collect all the human rests. Another sheet is needed to wrap the bundle decently. We drive to the cemetery. On the way we are flown over by three British aircrafts. They are flying at very low altitude and for sure they do understand our sad task. It is decided that Motte (a monumental mason, father of Mr. Jacques Motte) will dig a pit and Julienne (a carpenter) made a coffin. At six o’clock in the evening Father Jean Picard will bury these unfortunate young men and offer prayers on their behalf. About 20 people attend the ceremony accompanied by the din of the flak and the roaring of American fighters.
Poor young men who found an atrocious end in a foreign country. Overwhelmed in death it is impossible to know how many they were in the plane, at least three as we found three dog-tags, but probably more. What a tragedy for the mothers who will never be able to honour the remnants of their beloved children, died so far away from their home country.
Saturday, 12th of August
André and I decide to go back on the site where the plane lies. Yesterday we led there friends of ours. We found the hand of one of the occupants. We all agreed that it should not be left on the spot since it would be a prey to animals. We put the hand in a wooden box together with a few other remnants. We decide to go to the cemetery. Fortunately Motte is there. He opens the grave to put in the box and its remnants. Neither Motte nor Julienne accept to be paid for their job. They are too happy to have contributed to honour the allies of our France.
Sunday, 13th of August
The grave of the airmen is covered with flowers.
Tuesday, 15th of August
The mass is more solemn than it is usually. It looks to all of us that the H-hour is nearly to be achieved for the happiness of all. The grave of our airmen is now fitted with a cross and covered with flowers (Since 1950, after the removal of the corps by US Army, the cross is preserved in the church “Notre-Dame de La Boissière”).
4th September 1998
In presence of the widow and daughter of Captain Bjarne C. Tangen who was the bombardier, a stele is unveiled in the cemetery of La Boissière, at the spot where the mortal remains were buried by villagers in 1944. The title given to this relation is taken back from a more detailed text which can be found on internet (see Note 1). It tells the story how Mrs. Sally Gray, widow of Captain Tangen, founds the place where her husband was killed.
Photo 2: Unveiling the stele by Mrs. Sally Gray (on the right side) and her daughter Terry Fitzgerald. The man on the left who turns his back to the photographer is Général Michel Duval.
7th August 2014
For the 70th anniversary of the event, in presence of Monsieur Jacques Motte who was a 14 years old boy witness of the fall of the plane and helped to gather up the mortal remains, a ceremony is held in front of the stele.
Photo 3: the stele on 7th August 2014
Photo 4: A part of the audience during the memorial ceremony. In foreground Monsieur Jacques Motte and his wife.
1- The title given to this contribution is taken back from a more detailed text which can be found on the web: " www.brightok.net/gsimmons/remember.html", then at the bottom of the page: "This I remember...", them "French Citizens Remember an Ardmore Crew" .
2- The crew: T/Sgt. Frank J. Drapola, MitD - S/Sgt. Albert H. Kahler, Mec. - Maj. Clinton M. Lee, Pil. - 2Lt. Richard H. Parsons, CoP. - S/Sgt. Donald W. Short, Mit. - Capt. Bjarne C. Tangen, Bomb. - 2Lt. Arthur E. Thornton, Nav. -Sgt. John Jr. Waite, Mit.A.
3- the two other aircrafts: # 42-96221/4T-H or T, pilot: 1Lt Donald M. Ihle and # 42-96224/4T-F, pilot: 2Lt Benjamin W. Lowell.
4- See also on the Guest Book of " B-26 Marauder Man Information at B26.com" (Date: 6/3/2014 - Time 5.46AM) where another photograph of the crew can be seen.
5. During European campaigns a Marauder' s crew generally counts 6 men. Why 8 men in that plane?
Acknowledgements: Gen. Michel Duval, Mrs. Marie-José Guillotin, Messrs. Jacques Motte and Dominique de Russé. Jean Tariel