• 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)

 

20th and 21st May 2017

 

Leglantiers, Saint Just-en-Chaussee, Wavignies

Froissy, Crevecœur-le-Grand (Oise)

 

Visit of S/Sgt. Louis I. WATTS’s children

 

 

Copyright © 2017 - Association des Sauveteurs d'Aviateurs Alliés  - All rights reserved -
                                                                                                               In French france

 

 

During the month of May, we had the great honour and pleasure of welcoming seven members of the Watts family coming from Arkansas and North Carolina. Indeed Louis W. and Peggy Watts, Michael and Lynnette Watts, Vicki Olsen, as well as Louis M. and Anna Watts, honored us with their visit. Louis W., Michael and Vicki, are the children of S/Sgt. Louis I. Watts rescued in our area in 1944 while Louis M. is his grandson.

This visit would not have been possible, without the important work of research of our two friends Pascal Pollet and Franck Signorile, who initially established contact with the Watts family in the United States and retraced all the escape route of the crew, without the French families, (Begue, Boisselin, Desesquelles, Liebbe, Radziminski, Ropital), involved in the rescue of the airmen and without the excellent welcome organized by each of the municipalities concerned.

 

20th May

The first stage of this visit took us to the village square of Leglantiers. It was indeed on the outskirts of this village that the B-26 "Marauder" bomber with S/Sgt. Louis I. Watts on board had crashed on 10th May 1944 (see previous pages).

To the great surprise of the American family, were waiting for our friends of the Associations "N'Oublie Pas 44" and "Club du Loisir Historique" come with their vintage vehicles, were waiting for them. This surprising gathering was not without reminding the oldest members of the village of the time of the Liberation.

Leglantiers

Plymouth

 Superb "Plymouth" vintage

The long procession then took the direction of the crash site of the plane where everyone gathered.

Atthecrashsite
A panel of various small debris from the B-26 "Marauder" was presented to the Watts family.

Mr. Legros, who was aged seven in 1944, was present. He recalled his memories of this day of 10th May 1944 when he saw the damaged bomber fly over the village at a very low altitude and crash. "I did not see any parachutes and we all thought it was a German plane. The enemy troops arrived quickly on the scene ... We then learned that the aircraft was American ... "

Bruno Jurkiewicz, a native of Leglantiers, told us about the memories left by his mother. "That day she was on this little road. The plane crashed a few hundred meters from her. She really was very scared. She also thought it was a German plane ...! "

TemoinsBruno Jurkiewicz and Mr Legros with Louis, Michael and Vicki,children of S/Sgt. Louis I. Watts.

A purring was suddenly heard in the sky in the distance. In tribute to the American airmen, the crash site was overflown several times by our friend Bruno Maillard.

Avion  Vehicules

The long cohort of vehicles then took the direction of Saint-Just-en-Chaussee, the second stage of the visit.

Between the villages of Leglantiers and Ravenel, a short stop was made at the edge of a field where one of the three escapees of the "Marauder" had landed by parachute and had been rescued.

Champ

Louis M. Watts meditative at the edge of the field where his grandfather possibly landed.

At Saint Just-en-Chaussee, a first stop was made in front of the house where Jean Crouet lived. This home is the first identified place where S/Sgt. Louis Watts and Sgt. William Edge were accommodated, brought there by Dr. Edmond Caillard. On 12th May 1944, both airmen left Saint Just-en-Chaussee for Froissy, escorted by Marc Cuny. However, our visit to Froissy was planned for the next day.

FamilleWatts 

The whole Watts family in front of the home of Jean Crouet.

The engines restarted, we were preparing to go down to Rue de Paris, where the house of Yvonne Fossier and her companion Paul Begue was located.

Surprised to see as many American vehicles and GI's in the streets of the town, some people came to meet us. They introduced themselves as the descendants of a family that had hosted American airmen during the war. Imagine our astonishment and our great joy to learn that it was the daughters of Yvonne Fossier !! It was totally unexpected!

There are sometimes days when the expression "chance makes things right" turns out really true to its name, to the delight of all and especially the Watts family and the children of Yvonne Fossier. Indeed, their father, but also Joseph Houlihan and William Edge, were among the airmen taken in, despite all the risks, by this valiant family of Saint Just at the beginning of June 1944. A few days later Watts and Houlihan were transferred to Wavignies, again by Marc Cuny, while Sgt Edge remained there.

Henceforth all gathered in the courtyard where the (now disappeared) house of the Fossier-Begue family was located, we also had the great honour of meeting Lucien Bertin.

A young resistant, Lucien Bertin was 17 years old in 1944 and lived in Wavignies. By order of Georges Jauneau, chief of the Resistance of the sector, he had temporarily found refuge with Yvonne Fossier while his village seemed under the surveillance of the enemy.

Lucien Bertin was therefore a witness to the stay of the three American airmen in the early days of June 1944. A photograph was taken with discretion at the time with them in the courtyard of the house.

Begue  LucienBertin
                                                    Pascal Pollet and Paulette,                                                   Lucien Bertin

                                          one of the daughters of Yvonne Fossier

Having returned a few days later to his village, Lucien Bertin and his parents took part in the rescue by collecting and accommodating two British airmen, the only survivors of their bomber shot down near Wavignies.

This visit to the place of accommodation in Saint Just of S/Sgt. Louis I. Watts and his two crewmates in the company of their rescuers could not be completed without taking some "historical" photos. Substantially in the same place, the cliché of 1944 was reproduced with the descendants of both the airman Louis Watts and some of his rescuers. A moment of great emotion for all and especially for Lucien Bertin who, 73 years later, rubbed shoulders with the descendants of one of the airmen he had met.

StJust

Lucien Bertin with the Watts and Begue families.

At the beginning of the afternoon, the visit continued in Wavignies. In the rue Vincenot where the castle was once destroyed by the Germans, we were warmly welcomed by the Mayor, Mr André Renaux, his town council and the people of the village.

Wavignies

Mr Renaux reading the various documents relating to the rescue of the airmen.

A reminder of the important role of the Wavignies Resistance group was mentioned. Many Allied airmen were lodged by various families in the village. Louis Watts and Joseph Houlihan accompanied by an American fighter pilot, 2nd Lt. Harry Hunter, stayed from 7th to 28th June 1944 at Antoinette Dhuyvetter’s home. A few days after their departure, the Germans surrounded the village, making numerous arrests with dramatic consequences.

GenevieveLeBerre

Our friend Genevieve Le Berre, guide of airmen of the "Burgundy" escape network had joined us.

Our visit continued with a quick visit of the house where Antoinette Dhuyvetter lived. Although the site was extensively renovated, it was with great interest that the Watts family discovered this place where their father had been housed for three weeks, 73 years ago.

Wavignies2

All the audience then gathered around the war memorial where a ceremony was held. A tribute was paid by the Mayor and our Association to the numerous resistants and helpers of airmen of the village who died for France, followed by the American and French national anthems.

Monument

Wreaths laid at the war memorial

This day was to end with an official reception at the village hall. During his speech and on behalf of the municipality, Mr. André Renaux expressed his pride and his great emotion in welcoming the members of the Watts family. "... Today, the presence of this American family strongly marks the duty of memory that we must pass on to our children and grandchildren ..."

SpeechWavignies

The journey of the airman was then retraced, notably his stay at Wavignies in June 1944, before concluding with the words "We shall never forget that the United States of America was on the side of France when it was attacked and invaded. We will always have a debt to them. "

Very emotionally, the children and the grandson of the S/Sgt. Watts were then presented with the medal of the village in memory of their visit.

After a few words of thanks from Louis W. Watts on behalf of his family and also very proud that his father and his family were honored, this reception ended with the traditional drinks in a very friendly atmosphere.

SpeechWavignies2

 

Video by the municipality of Wavignies

 

 

21st May

For this new day, the destination was Froissy. The visit began with a visit to Eugène Ropital's former saddlery where Louis Watts and Joseph Houlihan were housed for three weeks in May 1944. Warmly welcomed by the owners of the house, the Watts family, surrounded by the descendants of the Ropital, Boisselin and Radziminski families, could see the old barn and the hiding-place on the floor where the airmen were hidden.

Froissy1

The Ropital and Watts families.

The visit continued a few hundred meters away, in the ex-house of Jean Boisselin where William Edge had been lodged. Former “novelties shop", the building has since been renovated but it was moving for all, especially for the Boisselin family, to rediscover the places of their childhood.

ChezBoisselin

Souvenir photo in the garden of the house with the Boisselin and Ropital families.

Mrs. Sabbagh, the mayor of the village, and her entire municipality, had organized an official reception in the honour of the visit of this American family to the places where their father and grandfather had been collected, despite all the risks, by members of the local Resistance.

After evocating the journey of Louis Watts and his crewmates, Mrs. Catherine Sabbagh continued with these words: "Today is a great day! We celebrate together these glorious times when your father carried bombs under the wings of his plane to stop the German invasion. But in fact, he was not only carrying bombs, he brought Peace and Brotherhood. We will never forget it! ... "

SpeechFroissy

Mrs Sabbagh, mayor of Froissy

After the national anthems, the municipality of Froissy gave the Watts family pictures of the village where the airmen had been housed.

On behalf of her entire family, Vicki, Louis Watts's daughter, warmly thanked the entire municipality as well as all the people present, very delighted to have the opportunity to thank all the French families who had rescued her father. "... Our father loved the people of France and he passed on this affection to his children ... He spoke little of the war, but spoke often, and fondly of the brave men and women of the Resistance who risked their lives to harbour him and thousands of other Allied soldiers... He loved the ‘Marseillaise’ so much that we had it played at his funeral in 1984…

This warm reception was concluded by the traditional drinks and some souvenir-photos.

SpeechVicki  CadeauxFroissy

Militaires

Gunner

Before heading towards Crevecœur-le-Grand, a stop was made in the village of Puits-la-Vallee where the stay of the airmen Louis Watts and Joseph Houlihan was evoked.

Dodge

PuitslaVallee

Puits-la-Vallee

Crevecœur-le-Grand was the final stage of the visit of the Watts family. A very moving meeting was organized in the courtyard of the former "Garage Moderne" with Jean-Mary Liebbe.

Anchored in his mind, the memories of Jean-Mary Liebbe, 8 years old at the time, were all the more precious moments. Very modest but also very proud to meet the children of one of the airmen taken in by his parents in July 1944, he testified to the very active role of his family in the Resistance during this terrible period of the Occupation during which it was so risky to come to the aid of the liberators fallen from the sky.

Liebbe

Jean-Mary Liebbe

At the foot of the imposing town hall, adorned with American colors, the Watts family was then welcomed by the municipality of Crevecœur-le-Grand, directed by its Mayor Mr André Coët. Many regional and departmental representatives honored us with their presence.

As a welcome, the youth Municipal Council also marked its presence by deploying a friendly "Welcome".

Welcome

The official reception was held upstairs, in the magnificent room Francois the First converted into a wedding hall. Staying at Crevecoeur, the King of France slept there in 1520.

In his speech, the mayor, Mr. André Coët, retraced the escape route of S/Sgt. Louis I. Watts, which led him to stay in Crevecœur-le-Grand. He also paid tribute to the many inhabitants of this town who did not hesitate to risk their lives by collecting Allied airmen throughout the conflict. The German repression was then implacable.

Mr. Olivier Dassault, member of Parliament and grandson of the famous aircraft manufacturer, reminded us of the ties and solid friendship that have always united the United States and France in the difficult periods of History. Learning that the Watts family was mostly coming from Little Rock, he did not fail to mention that a branch of the Dassault Aviation Group is located in this city of Arkansas.

SpeechCrevecoeur  Dassault

                           Mr André Coët assisted by Mrs Garault for the translation.                                              Olivier Dassault

The elected representatives then shared the honour of handing over to the whole Watts family the medal of the town of Crevecœur, a symbol of gratitude to their father and grandfather.

VickiDassault

Vicki receiving the medal of the town from the hands of Olivier Dassault.

After words of thanks from the Watts family, a diploma from the Governor of Arkansas, expressing his gratitude to the people of Crevecoeur who had come to the assistance of S/Sgt. Louis Watts, was offered to the municipality.

Diplome

The Governor's Diploma offerd to the town of Crevecoeur

Everyone was then invited to the reception hall. As a welcome, the choir "Saint Nicolas" sang a few songs from the classical and patriotic repertoire as well as some American tunes to the delight of our guests.

This magnificent day ended once again with the traditional drinks.

Chorale

The choir "Saint Nicolas"

ReceptionCrevecoeur

This unforgettable visit was very moving for the Watts family. They were able to retrace, during these two days, the path that had led their father and grandfather towards Liberty. The numerous meetings allowed them to thank with deep gratitude the descendants of the families of our region who came to the aid of the airman in 1944.

 

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