I became aware of Francis Gillespie via a fairly tortuous route (some of which Bob Williams kindly published in Poop Sheet 39 – the “Old Comrades” newsletter of the 404th Fighter Group). Bob was initially introduced to be by John Levesley who has put together an excellent website (http://www.winkton.net/) which chronicles the war of the 404th Fighter Group which included both the 506th & 508th Fighter Squadrons that Ray Elledge (506th) & Francis Gillespie (508th) flew with. John & I once spent a very enjoyable evening drinking Ringwood beers and going through the information that I had discovered about both Francis and Major Raymond Elledge and he was kind enough to provide many of the photos of Gillespie & Elledge on this site.
In “Leap Off”, the history of 404th, Gillespie’s grounding is described as follows…
Four dive-bombing missions the 18th in addition to the two experimental flights cost the Group two pilots, neither of whom were heard from till they were released from German prison camps nine months later. On the fourth mission, hunting for an observation post six miles east of Periers which the formation was unable to find in dense haze, Frank Gillespie’s ship was hit. Flames started up just behind the cockpit, and west of Periers at about 500 feet altitude, Frank finally got out. Chuck Viccellio saw his chute open. November 15, higher headquarters notified the Group that he was a prisoner of war.
The second pilot referred to being Ray Elledge
Bob kindly let me have Francis’ contact details and, armed with what I had already discovered, I “took the plunge” and made a long distance ‘phone call to him from here in the UK.
To begin with, he thought that whilst there was a coincidence and similarity between his experience over France, being shot down and captured along with Major Ray Elledge, he thought that I had got him confused with someone else. That was until he mentioned that they had been held with 2 paratroopers & an RAF pilot… and I provided him with the names! He then realised that we were both talking about the same person…him! I then spent the rest of the phone call (over 1/2 hour) being enthralled and honoured to talk to a Veteran.
I agreed to send him photographs of what I had found. Also, he explained to me that he had always wanted to find out the names of some of the French people in one of the local villages who had hidden them for a time from the Germans; unfortunately, although I’ve now been able to get much closer to this, having been able to identify one of the villages, unfortunately, Francis will never be able to say “thanks” personally as he passed away a few weeks after my phone call as he was quite ill, already.
In addition to this, he is also mentioned throughout Ray Elledge’s manuscript.
I have also been able to obtain a copy of the MACR (Missing Air Crew Report) that was compiled as a result of Francis being shot down; however, as yet, I’ve not been able to exactly identify the crash site on the ground.