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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Monuments Unveiled to 14 RAF Airmen Who Crashed 70 Years Ago

Top photo shows two of the relatives of the crew of the MZ 684, JT Marlin (your
blogger), nephew of Willem van Stockum, and Pamela Turney, great-niece of Fred
Beales. The newly unveiled monument to the 70-year-old crash is in Entrammes.
Two monuments were unveiled on June 10 in memory of the two planes downed that early morning on a mission in the Laval area.

One was at a pear farm in Entrammes, Mayenne. It was dedicated to the MZ 684 Halifax bomber and its crew. The pilot was Willem J. van Stockum, my uncle.

The other was at Saint-Berthevin, dedicated to the MZ 532 Halifax bomber and its crew.

Comment

Uncle Willem was the person who brought my parents together. He roomed with my father at Trinity College, Dublin in 1929-32. When my father discovered that Willem had a sister, he set about wooing her.

They were married in 1932, had their first child in 1934 (my sister Olga will be 80 this year), and ten years after they were married they got me (#5 out of 6 children).

When Uncle Willem died in 1944, a light went out in the lives of my parents. It was unspeakably tragic for them and for my Granny who lived with us.

"Time Bomber", by Robert
Wack, centered on the life
of W. J. van Stockum.
When we came to visit the graves in 1954, the 13 RAF-administered British and Commonwealth graves had tombstones. My uncle's grave just had a simple wooden cross. I remember my mother burst into tears because she couldn't understand why her brother was singled out for not having a tombstone. It turns out it was because Willem was still a Dutch citizen (he was seconded from the Royal Canadian Air Force but he had applied for American citizenship). The Dutch Government had asked my mother what she wanted to have on the tombstone and she said: "Greater love hath no man..." The tombstone arrived in due course, but my mother never came back to see it. My brother Randal and I have been back several times. The Dutch tombstone is very impressive, but it does not have on it the epitaph that my mother requested.

On the other hand, my uncle is the only one so far of the 14 members of the crew to have a book written about him - Time Bomber, by Robert Wack. I recommend it. The story is based mainly on factual material about my uncle and the life he led until it was ended. The additional elements that have been added to the story, what we could call the sci-fi meta-story, make several important points that are hard to discuss any other way.