67 - The Hordley Crew
This post in English on my blog is an exception, to pay my tribute to the Hordley Crew. 75 years after their sacrifice, I translated what I had previously published in French, and some more.
It was a few weeks before I submitted the manuscript of my book, towards the end of 2010. I had the feeling that one thing was missing : a photo that would allow me to pay a tribute to the young British guys who fell down on Champ-Mauger's farm in July 1944. If their influence on the history of Sérifontaine is obviously small, they remain as part of our memory. Once a year, the British and Canadian (for Hugh Burgess) flags and National Anthem are part of the ceremony to commemorate their sacrifice.
On July 8, 1944 at 1:44 a.m. the ND 567, one of the Lancasters of the RAF 207th Squadron, which had left on the evening its base at Spilsby in Lincolnshire, crashed on Champ Mauger when returning from a bombing on the German bases at Saint-Leu d'Esserent (Oise).
Despite what one of the 2 survivors (Georges Baker) thought, their plane was not shot down by a German plane but by the AAA of Gournay. André Velu, who lived in Mainneville at the time, saw from his window the shooting and the beginning of the plane's fall. Two crew members, Georges Baker and William Brown, were able to jump with their parachute. The bodies of the 5 others are buried at Marissel near Beauvais. Their names were, fifty years later, engraved on a small stele. Georges Baker, who was still alive at the time, had made the trip for his inauguration. I had his picture taken in 1995.
But I wanted to publish the story of a very young man who was going to die for Freedom. I had no more than three weeks. I engaged in an almost obsessive search on the Internet, e-mails to all the websites dedicated to WW2's exploits and dramas, to maniacal collectors of crash relics, to veterans of the 207th Squadron, to several museums and associations on both sides of the Channel. I finally rebuilt a life : Trevor Hordley, whose name was the more often mentioned (British veterans say the Hordley crew) was a Welshman born on April 15, 1920 in Pembroke Dock, the youngest of three brothers. He settled in Rugby, Midlands and worked at the BTH factory. He joined the RAF at the beginning of the war. It was in Rugby that he met his wife, whom he married in April 1944, and from whom I learned that he had a posthumous daughter born in January 1945.
And finally I found a lapidary indication in an old veterans' diary, that this girl's name was Christina Bailie. People born in 1945 do not necessarily leave mark on the Internet : there was still the telephone. But Thatcherian privatisations had made the telephone a competitive sector... which means that there was no longer a single directory. I made the bet that she was still living in Rugby, and I extracted thirty Bailie, or C. Bailie on the online directories.
I called at noon one day and explained to the first person who answered that I was looking for Officer Trevor Hordley's daughter. It's me, she replied. After so much feverish research and insomnia, I remained speechless for a few seconds, and I could hardly make the rest of my speech in English. We started a correspondence about this posthumous father whose memory was always honored. Her mother was dead in 1986. She sent me an original photograph of her father, a young and sad Welshman, whom you can't look at without emotion.
She also put me in touch with the family of Georges Baker, dead a few years sooner, who sent me a copy of the moving manuscript account that he left behind of the adventures that followed his crash. Brown had been taken prisoner in Beauvais. Baker, obviously unaware that Serifontaine's teacher was part of a partisan network, had fled at night to Vernon where he swam across the Seine. In Evreux a young Frenchman of about 14 years old, to whom he offered to buy his bike, handed him over to the Germans. The manuscript mentioned his long trip to Germany and then to the Soviet Union and finally back to England, but not that he was then victim for nearly a year of various psychiatric disorders, before returning to his first job as a police officer.
When my book was published, with the portrait of her father, I sent a copy to Christina Bailie. She wrote to me, I never knew my father, but he was always loved and never forgotten. It is a wonderful gesture on your part to have included my father and his crew in your book. I know she shows it to her friends with great pride.
I then had to decline an invitation from the 207th alumni, pointing out that my interest remained very focused on a small town in Picardy. But I kept in touch with Christina Bailie, her son Danny and their family. I sent them the photos of the 2012 July 8 ceremony.
Thus Pauline Cole, who is the daughter of Trevor Hordley's younger brother, contacted me in turn: Christina was at home in Wales when Danny sent her your photos and it would be an understatement to say that we were touched beyond what words can express : how beautiful it is to know that the people of your Commune remember them in this way, and in such an honorable way. I could cry when I write to you.
Post scriptum in 2013-2014
Her father and mother had visited Marissel's tomb nearly 50 years earlier. In 2013, she and her brother Peter Hordley were among us around the stele of Champ-Mauger. Their brief stay with us was a moment of great emotion, not only for them, but also for the older witnesses to the tragedy (see the newspapers below). The most surprising thing about the meeting was that both the French and the Welsh felt indebted to each other for their gratitude. That is why the meeting was so moving and true.
Our hosts delivered an official message of gratitude from the 207th Squadron Association to the Mayor of Sérifontaine, who assured them that their presence was felt as an honor, and that the memory of Spilsby's braves would remain engraved in Serifontaine's history.
They also brought me a set of photographs and documents on Trevor Hordley and the whole crew : after scanning it I put part of it online and deposited the original and a translation at the Serifontaine Library. There is also an indirect testimony from the second survivor, William Brown, and an echo of the awful uncertainty over the months left behind by the British or Canadian families of the unfortunate missing aviators.
On my side, thanks to a Sérifontaine senior who entrusted me with that, I had the responsibility of giving them with a moving relic : a small piece of aluminium from the Lancaster, found several decades ago in the small wood of Champ Mauger, asking them to give it to Christina Bailie in the name of all of us.
At Christmas 2013, I received a photo of Christina and her son Dan Bailie holding this relic, wrapped in the RAF flag in which I had given it to her nephews.
The Hordley family narrative of all this is on the 207th Squadron website.
In 2014 I received small photos of Burgess (left) and Holmes (right).
Post scriptum 2019
In June 2019 we had the pleasure of welcoming David Booth, nephew of aviator Fred Booth and his own son Dean, who had travelled by motorcycle to Sérifontaine to pay their respects at Champ-Mauger and Marissel.
A copy of the memorial they left was honored some days after, during the yearly tribute
And the 75th anniversary coming, I also have received a new message from Pauline Cole, telling me about Christine's recent visit to the Bomber Command Memorial built in 2012 in Green Park, her first ever trip to London.
Thanks to this blog, and to the everlasting interest shown by the ND 567 families, the links between us remain moving and strong !
Jacques Favier (firstname.lastname@example.org)