August 1944
Arms for the Resistance

 

By DAVID TAYLOR

 

Allied invasions in Normandy started with D-day on June 6th. The German response was the movement of troops and armour from Bordeaux and the South up to the North of France. The Resistance in the Dordogne and central France were disrupting this movement with the aid of supplies dropped from Britain.

On the night of 20th August 1944, eight Stirling Mk IV aircraft of 299 Squadron took off from RAF Keevil in Wiltshire on 3 different SOE missions, to drop arms and supplies to the French Resistance, in the South of France.

Of these missions, one was “Paul 118”, involving 3 aircraft:
         LJ 896 - 5GC, Pilot P/O Davidson, take off at 22.32 hrs
         LJ 813  - 5GE, Pilot F/Lt Taylor, take off at 22.47 hrs
         EF 322 - 5GB, Pilot P/O Hotz, take off at 23.00 hrs

The  coordinates of the intended drop zone are given as 43° 53’ 52’’ N,  00° 44’ 24’’ E, in the vicinity of Fleurance, some 60km North-West of Toulouse.
The flying distance would have been approximately 550 miles.

Struck down in France
Davidsons aircraft landed back at Keevil at 05.36 and that of Hotz, at 05.47.
Taylor’s aircraft LJ 813 did not return. It crashed with the loss of all 6 crew, at La Morenchie, a farmstead near the village of St-Germain-des-Prés in the Dordogne department, some 30 km NE of Perigueux.

According to eye-witness accounts, the aircraft was in flames as it came down through a grove of walnut trees, and was much disintegrated on impact. It came to rest in front of a farmhouse, the four engines either side of the house. The cause of the crash is not understood with any certainty, nor indeed why it happened some  100km East of the intended route. Local people remember a violent thunderstorm in the Excideuil area that night, and there are reports of bad weather in RAF records; one other aircraft from Keevil that night abandoned a similar mission in central France due to “severe electrical storm”. The RAF records also refer to some activity by German aircraft in that general area.
So from research to date, the cause might have been electrical storm affecting navigation instrument, lightning strike, or enemy action, or some combination of all of these.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wreckage of LJ813 at La Morenchie 21.08.1944


The crew

The crew of LJ 813 on this flight were all from RAF Volunteer Reserve:  

Ernest Albert Taylor   

Flight Lieutenant

105159

Pilot

Aged 30

Carl Victor Mason

Flight Lieutenant

106539

Navigator

Aged 30

Reginald Dutton

Pilot Officer

178818

Air Gunner

Aged 33

George James Elliott

Flying Officer 

169876

W.Op./Air Gunner

Aged 24

Ronald Victor Cooling

Flight Sergeant

1322410

Bomb Aimer

Aged 23

Arthur Alfred Beale

Sergeant

1133762

Flight Engineer

Aged 24

This same crew had flown together many times during the preceding months, with the exception of P.O Dutton, who on this night took the place of F/O W.E.Tripp.
The Officer Commanding “A” flight was S/Ldr. D.W.Triptree.

The deceased were taken to Excideuil, the nearest town, about 6km to the East. On August 23rd,  with Perigueux liberated just four days previously, a funeral ceremony was held, attended by the Mayor, the Préfet, and representatives of Government and Resistance movements. The six coffins were draped in Union flags, made from parachute cloth, and a Guard of Honour formed by the FFI. A huge crowd had gathered in this small town, carrying flowers and flags, and followed the cortège through the town’s narrow streets to the communal cemetery, where all the aircrew were buried in a group of six graves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Funeral Procession through Excideuil 23.08.1944

After the war

Annual ceremonies
Every year, now usually on the first Sunday after August 20th, a morning of remembrance ceremonies is held, to honour both the crew of the Stirling, and three local Resistants killed during the war. The day is organised jointly by both communes, St-Germain and Excideuil, and visits four different locations, starting in alternate years at either Excideuil or St-Germain.
The format of the morning has evolved over the years from less formal beginnings.
Representing government will usually be the mayors or their deputies of both communes, together with representatives of the Préfet, the Conseiller General, and the British Consul in Bordeaux.
Others in official capacity include committee and other members of the ANACR (Association des Anciens Combattants de la Résistance), many as standard bearers for the local groups, and a representative of the RAF. Then there are the families of the aircrew, local residents, both French and some British expatriates, and maybe a few holidaymakers and tourists.
The crew of Stirling LJ 813 are remembered in two ceremonies, at the site of the crash at La Morenchie, in the commune of St-Germain-des-Prés, and at the cemetery at Excideuil, where all six crew are buried. At each site, a few speeches are made, floral tributes are laid in silence, both national anthems are played.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Annual ceremony at Excideuil communal cemetery 23.08.2009

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