• Plage Bonaparte à Plouha (Côtes d'Armor) - Haut-lieu de la Résistance

  • Sacy-le-Grand (Oise) - Mémorial en souvenir du F/O H. H. MacKenzie (RCAF)

  • Supermarine LF Mk.Vb Spitfire EP120 - G-LFVB - (The Fighter Collection)

  • Le Cardonnois (Somme) - Stèle à la mémoire de l'équipage du Boeing B-17 #42-31325, 452nd Bomb Group

  • B-17G-85-VE 44-8846 - F-AZDX - (FTV)

 

16th September 2016

 

Bulles, Brunvillers-la-Motte, Mory-Montcrux (Oise)

 

The visit of Laura Parker,

granddaughter of S/Sgt. Eugene A. Colburn

                                                                                                        

                                                                                  

                                                                                   Copyright © 2016 - Association des Sauveteurs d'Aviateurs Alliés - All rights reserved -

                                                                                                            En français france

 

We had the great honour of welcoming Laura Parker and Scott, her husband, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on their first visit to France. Laura’s grandfather, S/Sgt. Eugene A. Colburn, a member of the crew of a Flying Fortress shot down on 24th February 1944 during a mission over Germany, was rescued by several French families of the Oise “departement” during the course of his escape.

He really wanted Laura to visit the very places where he had been hidden and to meet witnesses or the descendants of those who did not hesitate to take huge risks to save her grandfather.

72 years have passed but the memory of the passage of the young American airman has always remained vividly remembered by the families who had picked him up in our little villages of the Oise.

Laura’s visit in the steps of her grandfather began in Bulles at the house of Pierre Coulon. A carpenter by trade, Pierre Coulon and his family lodged several Allied airmen during their escape from February 1944 onwards. S/Sgt. Colburn and his compatriot, Sgt. Payne, were among those who found refuge in this house during the last week of March 1944.

 Bulles- Colette and Laura in front of the house where S/Sgt. Eugene A. Colburn was hidden.

Bulles- Colette and Laura in front of the house where S/Sgt. Eugene A. Colburn was hidden.

Colette, the youngest daughter of Pierre Coulon, who was in the house and absolutely delighted to meet Laura, spoke of her memories of the passage of the airmen in the house. Very young at the time (she was only 5 years old in 1944), Colette admitted that she did not particularly remember Laura’s grandfather.

However, certain images are fixed in her memory.”Confined to one of the rooms on the first floor, with no heating, the airmen had to remain discrete for days on end. They only came down in the evening for their meals with our family. My parents shared with them what little they had in this time of austerity. There were many restrictions because of the German occupation. These tall chaps who did not speak the same language as us, impressed me. I took refuge in a corner of the kitchen, sitting on a little bench. After the Liberation one of the airmen who was lodged by my parents, 2nd Lt. Paul Packer, sent me a doll with several garments for Christmas. It was an inestimable present for the little girl that I was, because my parents had little to offer me at the time. 72 years later I still have it.”

The next stage of the visit took place at Brunvillers-la-Motte. In front of the house which belonged at the time to her parents, Lucie was waiting for us. Laura wanted to thank her personally and through her, her parents, who have today disappeared, who helped along with others, her grandfather’s return to the United States. The meeting of the two women, followed by the mayor of the village accompanied by a small municipal delegation, was a moment of intense emotion during which they had great difficulty in holding back their tears.

Brunvillers-la-Motte - Lucie Sorel-Mouret and Laura Parker

Lucie and Laura

Brunvillers-la-Motte - The Sorel house
Brunvillers-la-Motte – In front of the house which belonged to the Sorel family.

S/Sgt. Colburn was lodged for the whole month of April 1944 with Sgt. Payne.

Aged 17 in 1944, Lucie still remembers very clearly the two young airmen lodged by her parents, Valere and Leonie Sorel, during the whole month of April 1944: “I was at boarding school at the time. During the Easter holidays I came home to find that my parents were sheltering two young American airmen. They did not speak French and my parents did not speak English. They communicated by gests. As for me, I had a few ideas to facilitate the dialogue. Eugene Colburn and Charles Payne were two completely different characters. The former was always elegant, taking great pride in his blond hair. The latter was very dynamic and often played the fool. They were lodged on the first floor of the house next to my father’s forge. My father was a blacksmith. The airmen sometimes went out into the courtyard which was surrounded by high walls, in order to stretch their legs. We had chickens, rabbits and even a pig. My father’s workers never came there and our neighbours had no idea they were with us. They lived in relative safety with us in spite of the fact that from their room overlooking the road they could see the comings and goings of the German soldiers. They spent most of their time playing cards or board games. My father made a good job of sharpening the knives with which the two Americans amused themselves by making little catapults with the storks of Jerusalem artichokes. We did not have much to eat and I remember that they ate all the pots of jam we had. .....In his workshop, my father and his friends in the Resistance also made “crabs”. These were pieces of sheet metal cut into diamond shape and folded at the corners. Thrown onto the roads they punctured the enemy vehicles...”

The visit then continued to Mory-Montcrux, the first village in which S/Sgt. Eugene Colburn was sheltered temporarily by Theo and Marie Brochart and then in the farm of Paul and Renee Maillard who lodged him for about a fortnight. Laura and her husband were warmly welcomed at the house of Patrice Maillard, the grandson of Paul and Renee Maillard, surrounded by several members of the family.

Born after the war, Patrice Maillard told Laura of the souvenirs handed down to him by his grandfather Paul. Apart from S/Sgt. Eugene A Colburn, another American airman, 1st Lt. Harry F. Hunter, was also taken over by his family during the war. A small compass, part of the escape kit of one of the airmen ,was given with emotion to Laura.

Mory-Montcrux - Emotion for Laura Parker  Mory-Montcrux - The compass given by the Maillard family

   Mory-Montcrux- The little compass given to Laura as a souvenir by the Maillard family.

Patrice Maillard : “Throughout all his life, my grandfather preciously kept the small identity photos of the two airmen but unfortunately they bore no name. For a few months now the mystery has been partly solved because we now know that one of them was Eugene Colburn. We were very moved to learn of the letters which my grandfather wrote to the American airman shortly after the Liberation. The Colburn family have carefully kept them. My grandparents were disappointed at never having had a reply and now we know the reason why.” (S/Sgt. Colburn took an oath on his return to England to never speak of his evasion. He feared it would cause trouble to those who had helped him.)

Laura surrounded by the Maillard family

Laura and Scott surrounded by the Maillard family - Photos and documents were exchanged.

 

 Mory-Montcrux - Patrice Maillard reading a letter written by his grandfather

 Patrice Maillard emotionally reads the letter written to the aiman by his grandfather.

Everyone then made their way to the farm where the airman stayed. This was yet another moment of emotion when Laura discovered the exact spot where her grandfather had been photographed 72 years previously.

Mory-Montcrux - Laura Parker 72 years after at the same place  S/Sgt. Colburn at Mory-Montcrux

  72 years later at the same spot with so much emotion !!

After going to the cemetery of the village to pay tribute at the grave of Paul Maillard, and his wife, and equally at the grave of Bronislawa Plieska, a young Polish agricultural worker savagely murdered by retreating German soldiers a few hours before the Liberation of the village, it was time to go to the town hall where we were all invited to a reception.

 

Mme Gerard, mayor of Mory-Montcrux, her municipal council, the population of the village and several friends welcomed us into the town hall which was decked in American flags. A banner “Welcome” was also deployed in honour of the arrival of Laura and her husband. Panels of photographs and various documents displayed the story of S/Sgt. Colburn.

Mory-Montcrux - The exhibition

During her official speech and expressing her pride and pleasure in welcoming the young American couple, Madame Gerard retraced the whole adventure of S/Sgt. Colburn right from the day when he jumped with his parachute to his return to England :

“What a thrill to retrace these few months-oh how glorious- but dangerous-in the life of your grandfather ! All the French families deserve great acclaim for having rescued him and hidden him, something which was very dangerous and could well lead to reprisals”.

 Mory-Montcrux - Mme Renee Gerard, Mayor reading her speech

Mory-Montcrux - The audience

By way of a souvenir the municipality presented Laura with a village chronicle and a medal was given to her by the Franco-Dutch Association, working for the upkeep of the church.

Laura Parker, very emotionally, took the floor so as to thank the municipality for having welcomed her with so much honour.

“Today I came to honour my grandfather but especially to honour those who helped him survive. It is thanks to them that I am alive today to share their extraordinary stories. In the name of my family I should like to express our sincere gratitude to these people of the French Resistance. I should also like to thank those of you who research these stories and reunite airmen with the descendents of those who helped them escape. Your work means so much to us”.

Mory-Montcrux - Speech of Laura Parker

The conviviality of the reception which followed was an occasion for warm exchanges with all the participants.

This great day came to an end at the Brunvillers-la-Motte town hall where the municipality expressed the wish to receive Laura and Scott in all simplicity.

 Brunvillers-la-Motte - Reception at the town hall

Town hall of Brunvillers-la-Motte - Laura surrounded by the mayor, the municipal council and Lucie.

Laura Parker realised her dream of walking in her grandfather’s footsteps. The welcome of the municipalities, the moving meetings between this American family and the French families who saved S/Sgt. Colburn were full of a profound mutual gratitude.

This memorable day will remain entrenched in the memories of each one.


Brunvillers-la-Motte : Lucie Mouret rencontre... par Lebonhommeclermont

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