ONE ARMISTICE DAY IN MY VILLAGE…
I was told the story of how, in July 1944, a Mosquito Small Bomber of the Royal Air Force crashed in the hills above Ternaud. Ternaud is a small village in the Valley d’Azurgues , on the western extremity of the Beaujolais wine region. Both the pilot and the navigator were killed in the crash and were later buried in the village cemetery of Létra, a short distance from the crash site. Most people who live or have lived in and around this area know something of this story.
I however, knew nothing. When I returned home I did a quick Google search whereupon a site called the Air Safety Network satisfied my curiosity[i].
TWO ARMISTICE DAYS LATER …
I was introduced to an elderly gentleman who, realising that I was English, recounted his version of the plane that crashed in 1944. From my previous, albeit brief, research, I recalled that the plane was a Mosquito and yet he insisted that there were three aircrew killed.
How could this be? This did not ring true for me; the Mosquito was designed for just a pilot and a navigator.
SO, WHAT DID HAPPEN EXACTLY?
When I recount this little story, the inevitably the question that follows is, “So, what did happen exactly?”
The answer, I hope you will find on this site. Because this is what this site is about. When I tried to find a definitive answer, one thing quickly became clear. There was no single source of evidence, and in order to find the definitive answer it was necessary to search for corroboration from many sources. Two memoires written by former members of the resistance in the Valley d’Azurgues, Roger Chavanet[ii] and Marcel Chadebech[iii] provided some eyewitness testimony. However, whilst these memoirs explained many of the accepted truths the eyewitness testimony was at variance with some other sources.
The bodies of Flying Officers John Christie and Dennis Kieran Flaherty lie in the cemetery of Letra. That is a fact.
However, the number of casualties on the night Mosquito DZ6326 from 627 Squadron crashed is just one of the many variations in the story, along with the exact location and even the date. Having said that, this tragic event took place in mid 1944 in rural France, it was 6 weeks since the Allied Invasion, in a similar span of time in the future, Lyon would be liberated and it was the beginning of the end for the dominance of the Nazi’s across Europe.
Inevitably details become blurred, maybe it’s because of what Carl von Clausewitz would have accredited to the fog of war, maybe it’s just down to memory or maybe it’s just the account of a tragic event in our history shifting from eyewitness accounts to folklore.