Thanks From England

As an island we were hard pressed, very little food was getting in by convoys and the nightly bombings were fraying us round the edges. Then the Yanks arrived.

I was 18, and my head was full of the glamorous lifestyle of America as portrayed by the films of that time. Lo and behold, after the soldiers arrived, I discovered that the American soldiers and airmen were vulnerable young men only too happy to sit around an English fireplace with the natives. My widowed mother was wonderful to anyone I brought home, and the rule of the house was that I could date anyone I pleased, providing Mum had vetted them first. With that in mind, the guest was made welcome and our pathetic rations shared. Along came your chaps, and their generosity knew no bounds–tins of butter, bacon, Spam, fruit, chocolate and cigarettes. The initials PX became a lifesaver.

I was a civil servant in those days, working on a telephone switchboard linked with military units, and I remember one Christmas Day when I was on duty talking to a soldier who sounded desperately lonely. He was stationed at Yoxhill, in Lincolnshire, and had come over the River Humber by ferry to enjoy the festivities in the city of Hull. Alas, there was nothing going on, so I invited him to share our Christmas dinner. There was a pause, and then this cultured voice like deep velvet said, “Ma-am, I would love to, but you must be told that I am black.” Color didn’t matter to us; he came and we had a wonderful time. The elderly friends who also shared our Christmas were enchanted by this 6-foot-2-inch gentle giant. He even enjoyed an English cup of tea, or at least said he did! Where are they all now, I wonder? Bob Lobeager from Chicago, Jimmy Binkmeyer from New York and Vincent Coyle from one of the Middle States, all would be in their late 70s. Thanks to you all for bringing light, gaiety, food and fun into our narrow, restricted lives.

My only brother was abroad in the army for five years during the war, and he served alongside Americans in Sicily and Italy. Like me, he has only happy memories of the comradeship he shared with our most welcome allies.

Billie Lee
East Yorkshire, England

New Windows for Remy

I am writing to update you on the latest developments involving the raid on Remy, France, on August 2, 1944, as reported in my story “Mustang Attack,” which appeared in the September 1998 issue of World War II Magazine (“Perspectives”).

The target of the attack, a camouflaged German train in the Remy siding, was strafed by P-51s of the 383rd Fighter Squadron when it unexpectedly exploded, killing pilot Lieutenant Houston Braly of Texas, some 400 Germans and one Remy civilian and damaging or destroying most of the town’s buildings. Two citizens, François and Maria Schouppe, who were then teenagers, took Braly’s body from his wrecked plane and hid it from the Germans. His sacrifice so moved the town’s residents that they had a funeral for him, buried him in the town cemetery and heaped mounds of flowers on his grave, even though the German commandant had promised to arrest and deport them.

The explosion also claimed the lovely stained-glass windows in the town’s 700-year-old Church of St. Denis. Clear glass panes replaced them because Remy could not afford new ones of stained glass.

On July 28-30 of last year, members of the 383rd Fighter Squadron returned to Remy for a weekend of joyous and solemn celebrations as new stained-glass windows, paid for by the squadron’s “Windows for Remy” foundation, were dedicated.

“We founded the organization at our fiftieth reunion to repay the citizens for the care and respect they showed Braly at great risk to themselves, and as our appreciation for the bravery of the various underground resistance groups throughout Europe who put themselves in such danger to hide and smuggle our downed pilots back to freedom,” said Gordon McCoy, a pilot on the Remy mission and a Windows for Remy board member.

“Thanks to the story in World War II Magazine and other media, we were able to raise about $220,000 for the huge church windows,” McCoy continued, adding that, “More than 4,000 people donated money for the project, and the story in World War II Magazine was a significant source of those donations.”

Walter Braly, the late pilot’s younger brother, said the 15 members of the Braly family at the dedication were taken under the wing of Marie Therese Remy, née Schouppe, the teenaged girl who, with her brother, pulled Houston Braly’s body from the wrecked Mustang and hid it from the Germans.

Meeting Mme. Remy, now a 76-year-old retired school principal, made the ceremony even more meaningful, Braly said. “It was wonderful what she did for us, and for Houston,” Braly said. “She and my mother became very close because of her role in Houston’s burial. After the war, my mother would send her and others in Remy food and clothing parcels because they had so little and our family owed her so much.”

The parades, speeches and fly-bys were impressive indeed, but I was most moved by one of the many toasts directed toward us old airmen. It went: “France is France today because of you!”

Frank Perkins
Fort Worth, Texas

Another Trip to the El Djem Bridge

I read with interest “Raid on Rommel’s Railroad” in the November 2000 issue. I am presently living and working in Tunis, Tunisia. As I was reading about Dan DeLeo’s mission I realized that the bridge in question was at a small town called El Djem, which is located about four hours’ drive south of my home. After considerable map reading and asking friends just where El Djem is, I planned a Sunday drive to find not only the town but also the obscure bridge that was not located by the airborne team sent to find it on December 24, 1942. Well, off I went with two Tunisian friends to find the lost bridge in a 4×4 truck. We traveled for approximately four hours and found El Djem with no problem. Trying to locate the bridge, however, was somewhat more difficult.

We went to the train station and started to ask questions. I located a very old man who said he knew what we were talking about, and he gave us directions to the bridge. It is off the beaten path by a few miles, and getting there was a rough ride to be sure. My efforts, however, finally paid off and, as we rounded a bend in the dry riverbed, there it was in all of its glory. It is still in use today and has been rebuilt with new spans. The original bridge spans are still on the ground directly below the new bridge because the construction crew could not move them to a different area.

I have to tell you that as I stood on the bridge and looked south to where the airborne team was dropped, I could not help but think how lost those poor soldiers were, as the place is indeed isolated! Thanks so much for your great magazine and keep up the good work.

Jeffrey Richards
Tunis, Tunisia