Thank you Ken for that introduction and good morning. Many of you will remember that I spoke at this service in 2004 and I again want to thank our local Legion for their dedication to keeping this branch active. We are very fortunate to have these members and this beautiful Town Hall to hold this service in each year. Every year their numbers are fewer and this year Mr. Harry Topp is no longer with us. I will always remember him proudly wearing his original uniform to every service. A lot of us would like to fit into the clothes we wore last year.
My story today is again about my Uncle Wray, yes Wray with a W who was born right here in Rouleau on April 25th, 1915. The W comes from my grandmother's maiden name Olive Wray and she kept this name which she was very proud of. In my story of 2004 I told you that my uncle Wray was shot down in a bombing raid over France and that that his plane was still fully loaded when it went down in the water and no remains were found. This is the story my mother told us when we were kids but thanks to the hard work of many British and French people I now have much more of this story to tell.
On my daily trip to our local post office in the first week of January 2010 I received a hand written letter from Mr. Colin Campbell from Brockenhurst, Hampshire England and I will read this letter to you now.
Dear W Heywood,
I have been trying to track, for about 18 months the family of:
Sgt Wray William Heywood or his wife Olive (nee Gwyther)
Some helpful friends at the Community Museum & Public Library in Windsor, Ontario (where the Heywoods lived) have passed me your name and address from the Canada website. Given that Sgt Heywood's family was resident in Saskatchewan (Moose Jaw) they thought it might just be possible that you were a relative of his. If not, please excuse my troubling you with this letter - but could I ask if you have any ideas about how I might pursue my research for surviving family members of Sgt Heywood? (I am doing parallel research in Windsor in connection with Olive's family - she died in June 2008 which I only learned about sometime afterwards). If you are related, I would love to hear from you: the explanation is as follows:
Sgt Heywood aged 28 was a member of the 6 man crew of a Wellington which was presumably shot down on the night of 7-8 May 1941 following a bombing raid on the St. Nazare shipyards. They all perished and are buried in Nantes. From the crash site two items of Sgt Heywood's were retrieved which came to public light only in early 2008 (and to my knowledge in June 2008). These were a watch and air identity tag bearing the name of Olive.
French friends of mine in our twin town of Point St. Martin, on the outskirts of which the Wellington came down, are anxious to pass these items to a member of the Heywood/Gwyther family and also to erect a plaque to commemorate the death of all six airmen (we have managed to track down the family of at least one of the other crew).
The search has been a lengthy and difficult one, but I am hoping you may be able to help me one important step onwards.
Thank you reading this letter.
With all good wishes,
I immediately went home and sent an email off to Colin who does not use the computer but his wife Jan sent me a reply telling me that Colin was very excited to have found me and with their help I was led to many internet sites. I then began to get emails from many British and French people who are dedicated to preserving and honoring the memory of all the men and women of both world wars. Through these communications I learned that my Uncle Wray's Wellington went down near the small town of Pont St. Martin, France, May 8, 1941, after bombing the Saint-Nazaire shipyards and killing all six crew members of which five were British and one Canadian. I also learned that a Hampden bomber with four crew members had gone down in February of 1941 near the same small town and that this town was working on a Commemorative ceremony to honor these men and their families. Of course it was hard to believe that at one time I was told that there were no remains of my uncle and I now find out that someone actually had some of his personal items retrieved from the crash site. I learned that these items a watch and a bracelet with the words FROM OLIVE engraved on the back were in the hands of Mr. Jean Pineau of Pont St. Martin and that he had made a promise to his father who had found these items that he would someday return them to a family member. It is interesting to note that Olive was uncle Wray's mothers name but also the name of his wife of one year who lived in Winsor Ontario. My British contact Colin Cambell had searched for her and found that she had never remarried and had died just a few months before he was able to get in contact with her. I had met her once when I was very young when she passed through Rouleau but our family had lost contact with her. I don't know what Uncle Wray's wife Olive knew about the plane crash but it would have been so wonderful if these items could have been returned to her before her death.
The next news I received from England and France was that Mr. Jean Pineau was very sick with cancer and he was not expected to live much longer. He would not be at the ceremonies to fulfill the promise he made to his parents. I learned that this was a man that took this promise very seriously and that he often carried these items with him and showed them to his friends and coworkers and told them the story behind them and that one day he would return them to a relative of Sergeant Wray Heywood. I later talked with Jerome Batard a very good friend of Jean's and the man that worked so hard to find the crash site of the Wellington and he told me Jean would place these items in his hand so he could look at them and he would tell him how important it was to him to return these items. I was then contacted by Julie Batay from the town office of Pont St. Martin who was working on the commemoration and who spoke English. She suggested that we might do a computer link up with computer cameras so Jean and I could meet. After a few trial hookups on May 11th at 3:00 am - twelve noon in France my wife Lorraine and I had a meeting with the Mayor, members of the historical research group, Jean and Rachel and with the help of Julie's translation we were able to meet and speak with these people. In this conversation the mayor and Jean asked me to come to France as soon as possible so Jean could meet and give me these items that he had been holding so long. I told them it was hard for me to come right then but that we would attend the ceremony in May 2011. I think back now and in my heart I wish I had got on a plane and went to France right away but I did not and in October I received a letter from Rachel that Jean had passed away and that his grandchildren Louis and Eliott would give me the bracelet and watch according to Jean's will. In an email from Julie she told me how happy Jean was to meet us and that he seemed at peace knowing that his promise would be kept.
So on April 30th we flew to Paris. Lorraine and I, my sister Brenda, my nephew Curtis his wife Verlee and their son Cooper, and Coopers grandpa Donn Perkins. Cooper is a member of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets Squadron 859 Crowsnest and he received permission to wear his uniform to the celebrations. We spent a few days in Paris saw the attractions and spent a lot of money on beer and wine, not an inexpensive place to visit. We then took the high speed train to Arras where we visited Vimy Ridge and the Canadian National Memorial and also the Beaumont - Hamel the Newfoundland Memorial where we were guided by Canadian students working there for the summer. For anyone interested in war history a visit to these battlefields and a tour of the trenches and conditions these soldiers endured will stay with you forever. Back on the train to Pont Saint Martin where we were picked up by Julie, Michel and his wife and taken by bus to the town hall where we were greeted by the mayor and met family members of all the airmen. We were invited into the homes of the local people and Lorraine and I stayed with Rachel Pineau and with the help of her grandchildren we were treated like royals. The next day we were taken to Nantes for a ceremony and wreath lying at the cemetery where there are markers of all ten airmen. From here we were taken to the two different crash sites of the planes. At the site of the Hampden 85 year old Father Bernard Poisson told his story in English about his last visit to that site. He told us that he was 15 years old when he and his friends saw this plane go down and they ran to the site and were so moved by what they saw that they went and got some shovels and when the wreckage cooled they buried the remains of the four airmen. They knew that the Germans were less than kilometer away through the trees and if they were caught they would be shot but they did it anyway. He had never been back to that site until he told this story to us. At the site of the Wellington we learned from Jerome Batard that they had been looking in the wrong field for this plane and only a week before they were told by a local farmer he had found some plane parts. Jerome told us that this plane had come in on low angle and that the pilot Fred Savage had been stationed in France before the occupation and knew the area and it looked like he was trying to make a landing. This would explain why the plane was headed in the wrong direction and the wreckage was so spread out. The visits to these sites where they have placed permanent markers were very emotional and we were so amazed by the large crowd of people that came out.
The next day Sunday May 8th, 70 years after my uncle's death we attended a church service in English and French and then accompanied by a brass band we went to the local cemetery to celebrate Europe Victory Day. From here we marched by the hundreds back to the town hall and after the brass band played the British Canadian and French national anthems Cooper Hagley in his uniform and Rosane and Illana ,Rachel's granddaughters read a poem written by my grandmother Olive Wray Heywood. Cooper had only been asked the day before to do this and so Cooper in English and the girls in French read the poem that I will read to you now "The Last Farewell"
THE LAST FAREWELL
Our fair young son his part to play,
Left home and friends without delay.
"Twas on a chill November day
We said good cheer, he marched away -
For well we knew and so did he,
The future veiled uncertainty.
The need was great, the planes were few,
He volunteered his work to do.
But every one must do his part
E'en though it breaks the mother heart,
This is not for a few . . . but all -
It is our country's urgent call.
We dare not leave this job half done
For if we do, we're slaves of Hun.
I like to think he's just away
And has not gone for long to stay.
But we must know joy and defeat
And take the bitter with the sweet.
Somewhere on foreign land he fell;
His final fate we cannot tell.
But man that is of woman born,
His days are few and trouble torn.
A thousand years are as a day
And earthly things soon pass away.
He notes the tiny sparrow's fall
We know His love is over all.
He lost his life? This is not true.
He gave his life for me and you
That generations yet to be
May freedom have and liberty.
My son! He must have sensed my tears
Amid the singing of the spheres.
---Olive Wray Heywood.
They then unveiled the monument and Rachel's two grandsons came forward and presented me with the watch and the bracelet that their Grandfather had promised his father would someday be passed on.
I would like to read you some of the Mayors words that he spoke when they unveiled the monument.
Every 8th of May, in the 36,000 French towns, people stop working in the remembrance of those who died for our freedom. In this year 2011, the 8th of May commemoration is very special as we celebrate the Victory of Europe Day in the presence of 10 RAF airmen's families. Those airmen perished in 1941 for our freedom near our village of Pont Saint Martin, a few hundreds of meters from here, exactly 70 years after the second aircraft crash.
This ceremony with you our dear English and Canadian friends is the result of a three year investigation in France, Great Britain and Canada, to find you but also the accounts and documents about the circumstances of these tragic events. These three years have also been a great human experience, on both sides of the Channel and the Atlantic Ocean, men and women who didn't know each other have worked together to honor the memory of these young soldiers who fought for peace and freedom.
I would like to thank all the persons who enabled us to be together during these two days dedicated to memory, remembrance and gratitude. Never forget that peace is something frail, like a little flame to be maintained preciously and eternally. We must encourage people and countries to get to know each better, to understand and respect their differences as demonstrated by our rich association with the village of Brockenhurst situated in the New Forest, England
To the airmen's families, thank you very much for coming to Pont Saint Martin, to the very places where your relatives perished. We honor and respect their sacrifice. Yesterday, we meditated together at their graves in Nantes and also on the sites where there planes crashed. We were overwhelmed with emotion. Our thoughts went to Frederick Colson age 18, Jack Franco age 24, William Thomas age 24, George Innis age 24, John Fulford age 22, Leonard Harris age 23, John Hart age 22, Peter Read age 20, Frederick Savage age 28 and Wray Heywood age 28.
We are now going to unveil the monument: it has been deliberately placed in a site much frequented by schoolchildren, inhabitants and local associations, so that everyone can remember the sacrifice of the ten airmen.
Today in our world, countries are fighting for their freedom, sometimes with great difficulties and often with great loss of life. All people must continue to work at peace, day by day to prepare a happier future in which everyone, whatever their race, language, religion or belief, and accept others and respect their differences. We must accept that others have a right to their place in the world, and that the wealth as shared in order to allow all humans to live without hunger or thirst. And if we are privileged, our responsibility is even greater.
Peace will be maintained only by mutual respect and with a great and strong solidarity between all peoples. May the tragic death of these 10 airmen 70 years ago help us think about that peace? The past can also teach us how to live a better and peaceful life together in the future.
This was a very emotional ceremony for all of us and it was hard for me to put into words all my thoughts and feelings at the time but when I was asked to speak to the crowd and then interviewed for the French National News I was asked what I would do with the watch and bracelet I had received. I told them that I would take them back to Canada and I would take them to our local Legion and then to our Nov 11th service and I would tell everyone how much it met to the French people to have had our young men and women come to their country and fight for their freedom. I said I would tell them how overwhelmed we were with the crowds of people that came to all the ceremonies all the thank you's all the hugs and all the tears. And so I thank each of you for coming and letting me fulfill my promise to the French people and thank you to the Rouleau Legion for inviting me to tell my story. We have set up a display of photos and other items brought back from our trip and I invite you to have a look after the service.