Epilogue

 

By Pierre 'Piet' MICHIELS with particular thanks to Phil BALL for the translation

Just 7 miles away, the flight engineer ODENDAAL lands heavily at the edge of the pine forest southwest of the railway station of the village of Saint-Medard. Suffering serious burns, and leg injuries as a result of his landing, he walks the deserted streets of the village in search of help. Many villagers see him or hear him, but nobody comes to help him ...
Charles NICOLAY is 34 and lives in the village of Saint-Medard. He recounts the night of 14 July, 1943, around 2.30 in the morning, we heard a man on the road who was shouting, rubbing his face with his hands. His clothes were torn and he had no shoes. Nobody dared to leave their house to talk to him because, in the area, there were resistance members hiding from the Germans ... In some places, the Germans had used trickery as follows: one of their men arrives in a village during the day or night and poses as an airman or a resistance member. People help him and from that moment, the man knows real resistance members and the escape route used by the airmen. The man then contacts the Germans. That's why nobody showed up. Discouraged at only finding closed doors, Sergeant ODENDAAL returns to the forest to take refuge. Charles NICOLAY says the man who cried on the road, after a while, finding no one, was gone.

The next day, the village buzzes with rumours about a British bomber falling near the village of Les Hayons. The villagers realise their mistake when they see two German soldiers arriving, escorting a prisoner on the road from the woods. They all stop at the railway station of Saint-Medard and the public realises that the man seen during the night was in fact a British airman who had bailed out. Both Charles NICOLAY and Elia MATHELIN state that he had leg wounds and that his face and hands were severely burned. But you could see he had already received first aid. His clothes were torn and in some places burned. With no boots, he was also walking with difficulty. He was escorted by only two German soldiers, to whom he would show the remains of his parachute, buried near the woods. Additional care is then provided to ODENDAAL by a local doctor. He is then taken under guard to the civil hospital at Longlier, where he is cared for by Dr. Miest in particular.

The circumstances of the capture of the airman are painful. Charles NICOLAY says in the course of the day, I learned how he was captured. In the night, after leaving St. Medard, he took refuge near the slate quarries down the so-called Pont-de-la-Blanche. The first to find him were the slate quarry workers. Some of them are members of the resistance. Yet no one saw the deployed parachute, not the crew of the Bf110, nor any German soldier and there were only two Wehrmacht soldiers who came to capture the wounded airman. It's too few men for a manhunt. Charles NICOLAY adds that to prevent the Germans discovering that the slate quarry was being used as a hiding place in the forest, an individual whose name I will not mention ... told the Germans that they had only to go to the woods to capture the British airman.

So, Sergeant ODENDAAL was betrayed by members of the local "resistance", concerned that they keep their small amount of smuggled contraband hidden and retain their perks, and whose only brilliant action during hostilities, was the temporary immobilisation of two German trucks loaded with ammunition ...

Fortunately at the same time, proper Resistance movements located 20 miles away conducted themselves in a more noble way. Other Lancasters crash in the region including W4236 of 61 Sqn. at Marbehan in early August - her surviving crew members are rescued by the population. In late August at Sibret, where a bomber of 97 Sqn. JA707 makes a belly landing all four survivors also manage to hide in the woods. In both cases, the injured crews are rescued by the Resistance. They are smuggled home through the Comet network, via Spain or Switzerland to the United Kingdom, where they all resume the fight.

During his short stay at Longlier hospital Sergeant ODENDAAL, as required, only gives "the Holly Trinity": his name, rank and serial number to his German interrogators. Before leaving for the Stalag, worried about his own future, anxious to leave a record of the events and of course knowing the fate of the rest of the crew, he manages to tell the doctor the identities of the deceased. It is this list that is sent to the priest of Les Hayons who transcribes it in his liber memorialis together with the history of the events of 14 July, 1943.

The following information, and its accuracy, can only be obtained from a relative or intimate. For example regarding the pilot, Greville, is actually his third name, 'Jock' being his nickname. It is the same for the gunner whose third name is Benjamin which is also the one he is known by. But the ages are approximate, which is consistent with the behaviour tinged with manly affection that prevails within the crews. The wounded man managed to say also that the bomber had been damaged over the target.

Hospitalized for a while at the prison of St-Gilles near Brussels, Sergeant ODENDAAL now bears the registration number POW No. 83699.

Held at first at Stalag VIIa in Mohsburg near Munchen, he knows he was betrayed but will never know to whom he owes nearly two years of incarceration in Germany. He manages to escape but gets rapidly caught. His behaviour and the germanic consonnance of his name will continue to attract particular sadic concern from the guards until his transfer to another camp. He is then sent to Stalag IVB near Muehlberg, on the Elbe . Unlike the Luftlag administrated by the Luftwaffe this prisonner camp is under the control of the Wehrmacht. Living conditions are much more harsh. The treatment will be particulary severe for ODENDAAL. His grand'son will later state that he was really more than just a POW. He is held in detention with polish and russian solders and few british captured in north Africa. Always been weak and facing the sadism of the guards, Johannes ODENDAAL yet will constantly try to escape. Learning that his doom was soon booked by the camp guards, he managed to escape again in late April 1945 on the eve of the arrival of Soviet troops. Soon after, guards will abandon the place, urging the prisonner to flee with them in direction of the american troops but it seems that the vast majority of the british stayed in the camp. For his part, more dead than alive, Sergeant ODENDAAL has already joined the American lines and is transferred to the Transit Center of the U.S. Army near Leipzig. Then by the RAF to a Red-Cross center in Nancy. Transferred by the Red Cross to Le Havre, he arrived in England at Tangmere before being admitted to a rehabilitation center in Yorkshire.

He re-joined the RAF with the registration number No. 777926 and is promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer Class 1. He then married WAAF Miss Pearl Simpson in the summer of 1945. Later, they returned to live in Rhodesia. He was awarded the 1939-45 Ops Star, the battle of Britain Clasp, the Air Crew Europe with Oak Leef.
He died on 2 August, 1995 in Kariba, and rests in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe.
He never returned to Belgium...
His grandson says the time in captivity was so harsh that the whole course of his life was affected by his suffering.

 

At the crash site in La Cornette, overnight and early in the morning of 14 July, under the direction of priests of Les Hayons and Auby, villagers collect the human remains in a large bowl carried on a wheelbarrow. The village carpenter, René LAMOULINE, makes a wooden coffin overnight. Meanwhile, Emile DAMIEN digs a grave in the cemetery behind the church of Les Hayons. In the morning, the priests clandestinely carry out a Christian burial of the human remains which have previously been placed in the coffin. To protect and mark the spot, the collective grave is enclosed by an iron fence. On 21 July, a special memorial service is held in the parish, under the supervision of local Resistance members. The majority of nearby residents attend the ceremony and the organist plays a muted Belgian National Anthem on his harmonium. Two wreaths are then laid on the grave. One of them bears the inscription to the heroes of the RAF.

At the end of the war and in accordance with the wishes of families, the British administration does not move the remains of the airmen to a military cemetery and, instead, erects three regulation marble memorials on the shared grave in the little cemetery. Under the eagles of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, are engraved the identity, rank, speciality, and serial number (sometimes), for each of the lost crew and the date of 14th July 1943. Some families will add special wording such as dearly beloved son of Auber and Ivy Robinson / Foi est tout for Sergeant ROBINSON and there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England for Flying Officer MOORCROFT.

At the exact location of the crash, during the winter of 1944, a wooden cross is placed in a pile of pulverized rock debris resulting from the impact of the huge bomber. On this wooden cross is written they died for us, besides the RAF roundel and the date 7/14/43. This is the same cross photographed by the mother and the sister of WJ MOORCROFT during their visit in Autumn 1945. They were particularly welcomed by the priest LAURENT of Les Hayons.

Subsequently a larger cross, but still made of wood and built at the request of Jean-Etienne HALLET, is positioned at the same place in concrete.

In July 1993, during an official event dedicated to the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of the British crew members, a concrete cross over one and a half metres high was erected on the site of the original reinforced concrete. A cross with many symbols says an Historian.

Built in the proportions of the Golden Mean, it recalls the Celtic and English airmen. In a circle representing the chain of friendship formed by our liberators, against a background of pebbles from a beach of England, it bears the Christian fish symbol, the initials of the RAF, the date 14 July 43 and the names of the missing airmen, engraved on a stone from the Ardennes.

This is the monument that is visible on the crash site.


Picture’s credit to : Mr René Martelange, Mr Pierre Michiels, Mr Pierre Bourgeois, Memorialmuseum.eu, Mr Geoff Pagett, Mr Geoff Pagett / Mrs Avril Walker-Flowers, Mr Pierre Michiels.