Today is Remembrance Day. It is a special day set aside to remember all those who sacrificed their lives in action. This year, I’d like to pay special tribute to my uncle Donald, a Royal Air Force pilot, who died in action in Brittany in June, 1944. I’d always been aware that Donald was buried in a war cemetery in France but until about six months ago, I never knew the full story surrounding his death.
Extract from the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post dated Wednesday, July 5, 1944.
Last May, my brother was researching family history when he came across a genealogy forum searching for information on our late uncle, Donald Moffat-Wilson. We were astounded to learn that a group of French veterans, Association Bretonne du Souvenir Aérien 1939-1945*, were looking for relatives of Donald, in order to arrange a ceremony to pay tribute to him. They held the missing pieces of Donald’s story.
Donald with his Spitfire Mark IX.
RAF Pilot Officer, Donald Moffat-Wilson, died aged 21 in an air operation over Brittany. It was six days after the Normandy invasion. The squadron had taken off in Spitfire aircraft from Cornwall, in England. The formation flew over the English Channel in search of the enemy when they observed a long German column on the move through Brittany. The column was made up of horse-drawn wagons and a large number of well-armed soldiers. The leader of the squadron gave the order to attack and the planes swooped down on the Germans. Unfortunately, Donald did not see the electric power line that lay across his path.The tail of his aeroplane caught on the electric wires and the plane became destabilized. It clipped the roof of a house, dived headlong into a little field before finally coming to rest by smashing into trees. The plane burst into flames and Donald died in the blaze in his aircraft. The Germans rushed to the spot and forbade the population to extinguish the fire.
Donald’s remains were interred on the farm by the local villagers. The priest of the little town, Maroué organised a funeral ceremony with the participation of the locals. The villagers placed flowers on Donald’s grave but each day the Germans came and took them away. Donald’s body lay buried there for about one year before being removed to the military cemetery in Bayeux.
In June, my brothers and cousins (all nieces and nephews of Donald) travelled to Brittany at the invitation of the association of war veterans, to meet with the Lord Mayor of Maroué. Exactly 65 years to the day after Donald’s death, his relatives gathered with villagers in the town square, to unveil a plaque to his memory. The young farm labourer who’d witnessed Donald’s plane crash all those years ago, was present at the ceremony. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend as I was in hospital in the UK at the time, recovering from surgery. By all accounts, it was a highly moving occasion.
My mother is the last surviving sibling of Donald but sadly, she is no longer well enough to appreciate this amazing tribute to her brother. Her family suffered great loss during WW2. At 11am today, I shall observe 2 minutes of silence in memory of Donald and all those who gave their lives for our precious freedom.
* With grateful thanks to the Association Bretonne du Souvenir Aérien 1939-1945.