Thursday, 21 May 2015

6th June D-Day 70th Anniversary.

The 71st anniversary of the D-Day landing is fast approaching and it would be remiss of me not to mark it.   However, I have yet to write about the 70th, for no other reason than they were some of the most amazing days of my life and I wanted to really do justice to them!!!    

Way back at the beginning of 2013, when I was at my absolute lowest and thinking of jacking it all in here and going back to the UK, the French equivalent of the parish newsletter arrived in my letterbox.   On its back-page was an article about an RAAF airman who had baled out of his aircraft and later joined the US forces that had been miss dropped in our village.

I was well acquainted with the story of the miss dropped paratroopers and my family have been to every memorial service held since we arrived here.

What did baffle me was the fact that this airman's name did not feature on the memorial plaque installed in the old church.  So I went to see our local mayor to pose this very question in the most diplomatic way possible.

Our mayor, Denis Small, is a passionate historian and there is little he does not know about what occurred in our little corner of Normandy.  He told me all he knew about this particular airman and what happened after completely changed my life...

Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black (that was his name), was born in Australia on 12 March 1923 and joined up on 19 June 1942.   He was trained initially in Australia before being sent to the UK in May 1943 arriving some two months later in July of the same year.

Our floral tribute to Stanley K Black
He ended up as a bomb aimer on with 106 Squadron flying out of RAF Metheringham.   On the night of the 6/7th June his squadron were tasked with the bombing of bridges in Caen, his aircraft was hit on the way back and crashed on the outskirts of St Jean de Daye near Graignes but not before he was able to bale out.   He was rescued by a local farmer and taken to the American paratroopers that had landed on the 6th June in Graignes, he fought alongside the paratroopers and died defending the village from the Germans.

This amazing information was gleaned from the National Archives of Australia, who have digitized their records and put them on-line for all to see.   For which I, for one, am eternally grateful.   But I would never have found them with out the lateral thinking of John Shipton who found Stan on line in a few clicks!!

John and I gathered the salient information from the website and I made another appointment to see our mayor to give him some more background to the story he had uncovered. Mr Small then gave me a copy of a local newspaper article dated August 1945 which told of the “man that fell from the sky” and told me that the family of Colonel Frank Naughton, of one of the key survivors of our local story, were in the process of collating the names of those who had died in Graignes and that a new plaque in their memory was to be unveiled for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Shortly after my meeting in May 2013 we were commemorating the 69th anniversary of the D-Day landings and made our way to the Commonwealth Cemetery in Bayeux where the Normandy Veterans Association had organised a memorial service. We found Stan's grave and left a poppy cross.

During the summer of 2013 I found out more information about Stan and what happened to him. I posted some questions on a couple of military forums dealing with the RAF and it was there that I “met” Graham Roberts. He had, serendipitously, been at the cemetery in Bayeux at the same time as me and had seen the poppy cross and he was also a veteran of the RAAF . We started to communicate via email and resolved to try and track down the relatives of Stan.
In early 2014 and I had a “Miss Marple” moment where I had found some newspaper announcements from the Melbourne Argus from the late 1940's from Stan's father and siblings, one of whom was his sister Jean Caffyn and his nephew John. Graham, who lives in Adelaide then tracked down John Caffyn in Melbourne by using the good old phone directory and got lucky first time!

Graham explained the reason behind his phone call and events snowballed from there. I exchanged several emails with John Caffyn when, out of the blue, I received an email from Elissa Liggins, John's daughter (and Stan's Great-Niece), expressing a desire to fly over from Australia to be at the memorial.

So in June 2014, Elissa and Graham and his wife Lorraine came over from Australia and were joined by Elissa's friend Clare.
The Australian Embassy issued us all with invites to the official ceremony at the War Cemetery in Bayeux and confirmed that a contingent of the Australian Federation Guard would attend our annual commemoration ceremony in Graignes on the 7th June. We meet up with the AFG at Bayeux Cathedral on the 5th organised the elusive car passes (another story I won't bore you with) and looked forward to the ceremonies to come.

Elissa, Isabelle and Clare

With the pass securely stuck to the windscreen of our car we all piled in and tried to get over to Bayeux. This was no mean feat as all the roads between Isigny-sur-Mer and Caen were closed to all traffic except those cars with stickers. We approached the N13 which was blocked by Gendarmes and showed our passes and we were off! The N13 on most days is relatively quiet but on the morning of the 6th June 2014 we were the only ones on the road, we felt like royalty!

We arrived at Bayeux, parked and walked to the ceremony, encountering many veterans and their carers who had made the journey back to Normandy to remember their friends and comrades that didn't. We located Stan's grave and bumped into some members of the Australian Press who were there covering the visit of some Australian veterans and the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. We recounted Stan's story and they filmed Elissa paying her respects at Stan's grave.   She even got on Channel Seven news!!

After the memorial there was the most amazing, moving and memorable fly past of the Memorial Flight Lancaster and two Spitfires, just watching it brought tears to my eyes and gave me goose bumps, what a sight it must have been watching squadrons of them flying over head night after night.

Fly Past

We had lunch at a lovely restaurant in Port en Bessin and then made our way home via the coast road negotiating our way through the vintage vehicles that crowd the lanes, it was spectacular.

From back row left to right;
Lorraine, Isabelle, Me, John and Jacob
In front; Graeme, Clare and Louis

Then we went home to Graignes to reminisce and prepare for the next day and the village ceremony honouring Stan and the rest of the soldiers that died here.

1 comment:

  1. Love this, described the day so perfectly! Makes me miss you all the more and desperately want to return! Thank you for embracing Stan's story and his legacy, without your efforts none of this wouldve occurred. You have done an incredibly wonderful thing for our family (your family also, now!) xxx