So, having met Sam & Martha for a meal last night, today we were off in the footsteps of Martha’s father – Major Raymond P Elledge Jr. In many ways, today was all about the whole point of this project: being able to give back to the family of one of the men that were held in the shed a small piece of their family’s history.
At Airfield A-5: La Chipelle – Raymond Elledge’s final flight
Our first point of call was St Martin de Blagny where, at the church, there is a memorial to the airmen from the 404th Fighter Group (506th (Elledge’s), 507th & 508th(Gillespie’s) Squadrons) who flew from airfield A5 – La Chipelle. The church is at the North Eastern edge of the airfield which is hidden behind some trees.
From there we drove to the South Western corner where there is a further memorial to the airfield and the men that flew from it & didn’t return.
From aerial photographs – whether Google or the French IGN – it is possible to still determine the location of the runway as there are still the gaps in the hedgerows from where the engineers cut through to allow the runway to be built. So the next part of our itinerary took us around the western perimeter of the airfield & along half of its northern edge until we came to a road that now cuts through what would have been the centre of the airfield, topping half way along this allowed us to get a real “feel” for its location. You could also see that Martha had been taken back in time to when her father used this runway in his daily routine to fly interdiction patrols in his P47 Thunderbolt. Whilst there was far less to see than on her & Sam’s previous two days of battlefield touring, you could see that this was Personal.
We then called in at one of the farms that is now within the perimeter of the airfield who pointed us towards a local gentleman – “an Irishman living in Normandy who was an expert on the area”. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in, so I left a card and a brief explanation of who we were & what we were doing with a request that he contacted us. Unfortunately, he didn’t see the note until Monday when the farmer popped in to tell him about our visit, but he then called straight away ‘though we’d just dropped Sam & Martha off at Caen railway station with their friends. It turned out that he was Edward Robinson – a Normandy Tour Guide and is very interested in making contact with Martha as he’s researching, in depth, Airfield A5.
Raymond’s Crash site
Next stop was to try to find Raymond’s crash site.
You’ll recall that Glyn & I had thought that we’d found this only to find that it was a post-war pig farming operation, so, having gone back to the drawing board & found some wartime maps which allowed us to more closely pinpoint the site we headed there for a look around.
However, in June, we had been given the contact details for Mme Suzanne Germain who lived locally and who, as a child, saw an aircraft crash nearby, so I’d written to her & Stéphane Jacquet (who was unable to join us due to his father’s illness) had also been in touch.
So now it was time to visit Mme Germain. Fortunately, a neighbour – Mme Chautal le Bel – was on hand to help with some translations.
We were able to determine that whilst she had not actually seen the aircraft crash, she had seen a wing on the ground. Given that Raymond had made use of two trees to slow him down following his hitting the ground, having a separated wing made sense. So, without further evidence to the contrary we decided to take this at face value & go and look at the site.
Mme le Bel took us to a small track leading up to a farm that Glyn & I had visited with our friend Benoit during one of our first visits to Normandy. However, rather than going all the way up the track, we parked on the side of the road & walked into the field in the corner made by the track & the main road. It was here that Mme Germain had seen the remains of the aircraft. Unfortunately, there’s nothing left visible, now, but we’re hoping that one of our Normandy friends – JeanMarc Lesueur might be able to arrange a visit with a metal detector.
“The Monastery” or “Starvation Hill”
Next it was back into the car for a quick trip across country to the village of La Chapelle sur Vire & the German PoW concentration area known as “The Monastery”. We’ve visited here on a number of occasions, so I’ll not go into the full details again. Suffice it to say that it was quite moving watching Martha walk around the place imagining Raymond being there & then escaping from it with Gerald Willen, Morris Sheppard & Francis Gillespie
Finding more at Le Mesnil Clinchamps
Although he wasn’t able to be with us, Stéphane Jacquet had been in touch with Mme Marie-Josèphe VIARD who is the Mayor of Le Mesnil Clinchamps which we’d identified as “Chaimps de Champs” in Raymond’s manuscript & although it was a Sunday, she had said that she would be pleased to welcome us to her village.
We explained (in broken French & broken English) the story which became easier in the telling when her son – Laurent – arrived as he was able to help with translations.
A couple of calls & some digging resulted in Mme Viard being able to identify another building that had eluded us on a previous visit – that of the Town Banker M. Roquet. However, before going there, she asked if we’d like to see the memorial stone that had been erected in 2014 to an American pilot – Harold Wellek – whose P47 (the same type of aircraft to that flown by Raymond Elledge & Francis Gillespie) was shot down by German Flak. in order to avoid crashing into the buildings of the village he stayed in his aircraft flying it away from the village until it crashed; unfortunately this action cost him his life. Here is a document that describes the unveiling ceremony written by a relative of Wellek who attended the ceremony.
Then, Mme Viard asked us if we’d like to see inside the village church which we accepted & we glad that we did as, one of the new (post war) stained glass windows shows the location of an American Field Hospital that was set up following the liberation of the village. We were also allowed to go into the crypt of the church which was interesting
The Banker’s House
So then it was back to the cars for a brief journey to the house that Mme Viard had identified as belonging to M. Roquet, the Town Banker.
Initially, I wasn’t sure whether this was correct as we had travelled in the opposite direction to that we took when we first visited Mesnil Clinchamps & travelled north east out of the village to find the barns & the culvert where the 4 escapees had picked up the bicycles on their journey back towards Allied lines. However, walking across the road, I spied a culvert under the railway & on checking with my map, realised that this was the same one… basically last time we’d gone in part of a circle & today we’d completed another part of that circle heading the opposite way! So I was happy! Also, the status & size of the house, even by today’s standards was large & so back in the 1940’s it would have seemed to be more imposing.
Unfortunately, in spite of some searching, we were unable to identify anything that could have been identified as the “Cave” where they hid for a few days. Perhaps that will turn up on another visit!
So, at the end of a fantastic day & one that Martha & Sam had so obviously enjoyed, we set off to Tony & Jill Stansfield’s B&B our accommodation for the evening; tired but happy