Discovering the stories of forgotten casualties of WW2

 Lancaster over the German V-2 launch site at Wizernes, France.
Lancaster over the German V-2 launch site at Wizernes, France.

Claudine Adroit of Montigny, France, has dedicated herself to locating and visiting the families of seven deceased crew members of a Lancaster bomber shot down June 7, 1943, over the village during World War Two.

Many of the families do not know the circumstances of their deaths, only that they did not come home.

Adroit has met the families of five crewmen and is hopeful of visiting the remaining two.

Her project started when two women on opposite sides of the globe, Adroit and Ngaire Gardner, of Dunedin, became acquainted and formed a bond via Bruce Gardner, Ngaire’s brother.  He had emailed the Montigny council that correspondence ended up in the hands of Adroit.

Two years ago, he was shown the spot where the bomber crashed.  A military ceremony was subsequently held at the cemetery where his relative is interred.  The family has often wondered about the final few minutes of her uncle, George Gardner (33), who was the Lancaster’s rear gunner.

Adroit’s mother, 94-year-old Simone Lesimple, remembers that ‘terrible night’ very well.

She had trouble sleeping with bombs exploding around her.  She crept out and witnessed the Germans taking bodies from the aircraft to a church for burial.

Lesimple always thought about those men, who they were and where they came from, she said.

Shortly after Bruce’s visit, Mrs. Gardner began some detective work.  She managed to learn the identities of the half-dozen other crew members whose relatives had always wanted to learn more.  For Gardner, the journey has been emotional, but she was happy to learn more about her uncle, Otago Daily Times reported.

It’s very comforting to realize that this team of seven men, who became close to each other, were together and that her uncle was in the presence of six other fine men, she said.

Her uncle was survived by his wife, and other crew members had left behind young children.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE