• 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)

 

14th and 15th September 2019

 

Leglantiers, Saint Just-en-Chaussee, Wavignies

Froissy and Beauvoir (Oise)

 

Visit of the families of S/Sgt. Louis I. WATTS

Sgt. William L. EDGE

and Pvt Joseph J. HOULIHAN

 

 

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        En français
 france

 

 

On the morning of 10th May 1944, after being hit by Flak, the B-26 "Marauder" # 42-96058, 394th Bomb Group of the 9th Air Force, crashed on the territory of the village of Leglantiers after a bombing mission on the Creil railway facilities, a highly strategic target for the Allies a few months away from the long-awaited invasion.

The six members of the crew managed to bale out. Three were captured shortly after landing. The three others, S/Sgt. Louis I. Watts, Sgt. William L. Edge and Pvt Joseph J. Houlihan benefited from the spontaneous help of the people of Plateau Picard.

On this weekend of 14th and 15th September, we had the great honour of welcoming the descendants of these last ones for a two-day visit in the footsteps of the airmen.

- For S/Sgt. Louis I. WATTS (radio-operator) : Vicki Olsen (his daughter) and Michael Watts (his son), the latter accompanied by his wife Lynnette, respectively from Arkansas and Missouri.

- For Sgt. William L. EDGE (navigator/bombardier) : Bob Edge (his son) accompanied by his wife Gloria, Traci Abel (his granddaughter) accompanied by her husband Jeff and their two daughters Cydney and Jordan, from Georgia.

- For Pvt Joseph J. HOULIHAN (tail gunner) : Kathleen Argentina (his daughter) and her husband Eddy, Gregg (his grandson), Catherine (his great-granddaughter) and a couple of friends from Pennsylvania.

 

Saturday 14th September

It was at Léglantiers, at the crash site of the B-26, that the first stage of the visit took place, where we were joined by the Association "N'Oublie Pas 44" and its vintage vehicles.

Mr. Legros, who witnessed the crash when he was only seven years old, explained what he had experienced on that morning of 10th May 1944. "...I did not see any parachutes. The plane flew over the village at low altitude before crashing here. At first we thought it was a German aircraft..."

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Mr. Legros, witness of the B-26 crash, with the Edge family

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Translations were provided throughout the weekend for the 15 members of American families.

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Jeff Abel and his daughter Jordan examine an aluminium piece found on the ground
  that very day.

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Departure of the convoy for Saint Just-en-Chaussée.

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On the road between Léglantiers and Ravenel, a stop was made near the supposed place
where the three airmen had landed.

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The children of the airmen.

From left to right : Michael Watts, Vicki Olsen, Kathleen Argentina, Bob Edge.

Louis Watts, Joseph Houlihan and William Edge were lodged, from 3rd June 1944, rue de Paris at Saint Just-en-Chaussée, at the home of Yvonne Fossier, a young mother of little Paulette, and her partner Paul Bègue. At the time, Lucien Bertin, a 17-year-old resistant, was also sheltered there.

Louis Watts and Joseph Houlihan stayed there until 7th June before being transferred to Wavignies. At that moment, they were definitely separated from William Edge, for whom fate will change a few weeks later ...

On 3rd July 1944, following a denunciation, the Gestapo and about 300 SS soldiers invested the locality. They surrounded the bottom of the Rue de Paris and the home of Yvonne Fossier where William Edge was still located. The latter and Paul Bègue shut themselves up in a rabbit hutch for nearly two hours in order to escape arrest.

That's when their neighbour Suzanne Lequien came in. She had the audacity and bravery to extract William Edge from the mousetrap by hiding him in the bottom of a baby pram, with Yvonne Fossier's daughter, Paulette, 18 months old, over him. Right under the noses of the Germans she then took him to a safe place at the house of Paul Bègue's sister, a little further down the same street.

75 years later, so it was to rue de Paris in Saint Just-en-Chaussée, an inevitable stage of the escape of the three Americans that we had just to take their descendants for meetings full of emotion. Indeed, Paulette (the baby at the time), her family, as well as Lucien Bertin did us the great honour of their presence among many other French families who had come in to help these airmen.

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Paulette and Lucien Bertin

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A little surprise was waiting for all the audience…

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The heroic act of Suzanne Lequien exfiltrating William Edge was re-enacted.

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This was a tense of emotion for Bob Edge (above) and his daughter Traci, (below) who could not hold back her tears, thanking Paulette, this involuntary heroine who allowed their father and grandfather to escape the Germans. "I obviously do not remember because I was only 18 months old. It is to my mother and her friends that all the credit must be given ... "Paulette timidly declared.  

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Replica of June 1944 photo ... 75 years later !

From left to right : Lucien Bertin, Kathleen Argentina, Paulette (Begue), Michael Watts, Vicki Olsen and Bob Edge.

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This visit in the rue de Paris ended with a photo-souvenir with everyone present ...

This visit to Saint Just-en-Chaussée continued with a reception at the town hall where we were welcomed by Mr. Frans Desmedt, Vice-president of the Oise Departmental Council and mayor of the town, surrounded by his municipal councillors.

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The military vehicles parked in front of the town hall.

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Welcoming the important American delegation, Frans Desmedt did not fail to recall the strong links that bind our country to the United States and stressed the importance of the commitment of the Allies to save France at the cost of many sacrifices. Then it was the moment to share around drinks.

The day continued in Wavignies. Near the old castle burned by the Germans before the Liberation, the acts of resistance which occurred in the village were expounded in the presence of André Renaux, mayor of the village. Antoinette Dhuyvetter, who lived in the village, lodged Louis Watts and Joseph Houlihan from 7th to 28th June 1944.

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Everyone then took the direction of the centre of the village.

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At the house where Antoinette Dhuyvetter lived.

It was in the village hall that this first day of visits ended. Mr. André Renaux expressed his pride in welcoming American families to his village, recalling the preponderant role of the Allies in liberating our region and France.

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André Renaux, mayor of Wavignies.

Despite all his modesty, Lucien Bertin was also honoured. A native of the village, his commitment to the Resistance was recalled, including the help he provided to two British airmen, Robert Hollocks and James Reid, the only survivors of a Halifax of the RAF 578 Squadron shot down in the vicinity during the night of 12th to 13th June 1944. With his parents (his father was stationmaster at Wavignies), he did not hesitate to collect and host them before they successfully pursued their escape.

This reception by the municipality of Wavignies was followed by drinks.

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The courageous acts of Lucien Bertin have been applauded.

 

Sunday 15th September

In the morning, our journey in the footsteps of the airmen continued in Froissy.

We gathered in the ex-homes of the Ropital and Boisselin families where the current owners warmly welcomed us.

Many members of these two families were waiting for us. It was once again very moving for both French and American families to meet so many years later on the places where their ancestors had lived and helped the airmen. In spite of the language barrier, they were able to exchange for a long time, animated by a deep feeling of reciprocal gratitude.

After returning to their families in the United States, Louis Watts, Joseph Houlihan and William Edge rarely spoke of the war. On the other hand, they remembered much of their epic in France and had never forgotten the dedication of the resistance fighters who had rescued them.

A tribute to the parents of the Boisselin and Ropital families was then paid by the American families in the communal cemetery.

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The descendants of the Ropital family in the courtyard of the house of their ancestors,
with the Watts and Houlihan families.

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Gregg at the little window of the barn that served as a refuge in May 1944 for his grandfather
Joseph Houlihan and Louis Watts.

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Group photo with all the families in the courtyard of Jean Boisselin's house,
in front of the same brick wall near which the airmen were photographed in May 1944.

In the afternoon we took the direction of Beauvoir, a stage that concerned more particularly the journey of the airman William Edge until his arrest on 28th July 1944.

Before heading to Beauvoir and not wishing to end our journey by the darkest episode of William Edge's course in our region, we first went near the Bois des Moines, between Bonvillers and Ansauvillers, to the place where he lived his last moments of freedom.

It was necessary for the Edge family to know this part of the story in the very place where the events took place.

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The descendants of William Edge were particularly attentive but also saddened to learn

the circumstances of the arrest.

The village of Beauvoir was the last stop of our visit. We were tremendously welcomed by a large number of descendants of the Le Mouel and Menard families, in the house formerly occupied by their grandfather Joseph Le Mouel who took so many risks in housing airmen. At the back of the house, under the roofs, the descendants of William Edge were able to see the "hideout" lit by a simple little window where he was hidden.

What a joy it was for all to attend this meeting between American families, especially for the Edge family and the Le Mouel/Ménard family, all expressing, one to the other and beyond the generations, a great sense of mutual gratitude.

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The Edge and Le Mouel/Ménard families gathered for a souvenir photo.

This weekend of remembrance ended in the village hall of Beauvoir where we all had the pleasure of being received by the mayor, Mr. Laurent Tribout, and his municipal team.

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Very honoured to welcome these American families, Mr. Tribout evoked the friendship that has long united France and the United States while underlining the help provided by this country to liberate us. "... We have a story together and also have a future together ... Faced with the new generations, it is important to have a duty to remember the sacrifices made by so many men from different countries to save our freedom and fight against Nazi ideology ... I am delighted to live this moment of joy and sharing since it is not common to have Americans here ... "

This very nice moment was followed by a drink more than welcome at this very warm end of this summer day.

This fantastic weekend that generated so much exchange and sharing was ending. Far too soon came the difficult moment of separation with all these families. Our American friends would continue, for some of them, their visits to other parts of France for a few more days.

Of these two days spent in their company will remain the memory of very beautiful meetings, source of a great friendship between the descendants of the American families and the numerous descendants of their rescuers namely Jean Boisselin, Juste Desesquelles, Yvonne Fossier/Paul Bègue, Joseph Le Mouel, Henri Ménard, Bruno Radziminski, Eugène Ropital families, without forgetting Lucien Bertin who was a direct witness of the stay of the airmen. All were so touched but also happy to have lived this weekend in memory of their ancestors who, either in the air or in the Resistance, had fought against Nazism and for Freedom during this dark period of our History.

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