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Un gamin de 4 ans est témoin du crash.

     

Marcel Leroy et ses parents, Irène et Jules.

Nous sommes le 14 juin 1944, il est 9h17. Marcel Leroy, âgé de quatre ans, se rend à l’école. Il est seul ce matin-là. Il a entendu le bruit d’un avion. Il l'aperçoit soudain surgissant au-dessus des arbres et des toits ; il est suivi d’un épais nuage de fumée noire. Les yeux fixés sur cet avion en perdition, Marcel voit une masse sombre s'extirper de l'avion et s’écraser au sol. Quant à l’appareil, il va s’écraser dans la prairie de l'autre côté du chemin. Cette masse sombre, c'était le pilote…

Apeuré, Marcel s'enfuit et rejoint l’école tandis que les gens du voisinage accourent sur le lieu du drame. Ils sont suivis par le curé qui administre les derniers sacrements au pilote décédé. Les parents de Marcel se sont amenés très rapidement à l'école pour s'assurer que leur gamin y est bien arrivé. Irène Gorts, sa maman, rentre à la maison au hameau du Buis et revient déposer, sur le corps mutilé du pilote, un bouquet de fleurs coupées à la hâte dans le jardin familial. 

C'est l'affolement général. Un gigantesque attroupement se forme autour du cadavre de ce jeune soldat qui a cessé de vivre. Survient alors un motocycliste prétendant être membre de la Résistance ; il fend la foule et vient retirer les papiers d’identité du pilote et sans doute son plan de vol. 

Les Allemands ont tardé à arriver sur les lieux du crash ; ils avaient plus urgent à faire : parcourir la région à la recherche de l’équipage en menaçant les villageois de prendre des otages s’ils refusaient de collaborer aux recherches.

La nouvelle qu’un avion américain est tombé à Wodecq se propage comme une traînée de poudre dans toute la région. L'après-midi, les curieux arrivent par centaines de tous les villages environnants. Juché sur son petit vélo, Marcel se faufile parmi cette foule. Les jeunes gens semblent à l’aise, enjoués et affairés comme sur un champ de foire. Fiers comme Artaban, ils paradent parmi les débris avec, pendus sur la poitrine, des instruments dont ils ne connaissent nullement l’utilité. Les jeunes filles fouillent partout à la recherche du moindre lambeau de toile ou de morceaux de mica avec lesquels des mains habiles leur fabriqueront soit une robe, soit une bague, une broche ou de petits pendentifs.

Pour les Allemands, cette «brocante» improvisée n’a que trop duré. En fin d’après-midi, un véhicule militaire arrive, mais les soldats ne brutalisent personne. Suite à l’interrogatoire de trois membres de l’équipage qui ont été capturés non loin de là, ils ont compris qu’aucun autre membre de l’équipage ne peut être caché à Wodecq. Ils invitent la masse de badauds à s’éloigner mais personne n'obéit aux injonctions ; seule la peur pourrait leur faire entendre raison. Aussi les soldats tirent-ils quelques rafales de mitraillette au-dessus des têtes, créant ainsi une panique indescriptible dont le petit Marcel garde encore un souvenir aussi pittoresque qu’impérissable.  

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Testimony of a 4 year old child

I was four. Together with my parents I lived at "Hameau du Buis" in the home of my grandparents Isidore and Virginie Gorts. Every day my Aunt Estelle walked with me te school but, on that particular day, I was on my own. My Aunt had left before me because she had to attend a mass toprepare for her Communion which was to take place on Whit Sunday. This was why I was alone. It seems strange today but a two-kilometre walk was normal in those days, even for a boy of four… Like all the surrounding villages, Wodecq was a quiet place and small farmers made up a large part of its population. Cars were scarce and we hardly ever met any on the roads. The Occupying Forces were rarely around.

I had reached the crossing between the road to Ostiches and Ath and the road to Lahamaide. On my right a small stream ran between the street that led to village square and an expanse of meadows. Suddenly I heard a tremendous noise coming from the church square and soon noticed a plane trailing a cloud of black smoke. I had managed to steer around the church spire and was now veering in my direction. The pilot had avoided the center of the village and probably decided to aim for the fields that lay on each side of the road to Ostiches and Ath, a hundred metres from where I was.

I could clearly see a shape coming out of the airplane and falling in the meadow to the left of the road. I was too young to realize that it might be the pilot and that his parachute had failed to open. Very soon the plazne crashed in the meadow on the opposite side of the road, right behind the house of the Constant family.

Needless to say tyhat I immediately ran up the street to the village square. I remember meeting a lady, Rosette, who kept the small Delhaize shop and was running to the site of the accident.She told me to stay away and to burry to school. I did so without hesitating and took the small paved aaley along Monsieur Maubert's house. I can stillm hear the echo of my small hobnailed shoes – this was in fashion at the time, it protected the soles – on the cobblestones of that alley enclosed between high brick walls.

I arrived at school out of breath and my schoolmates were already inside. My schoolmistresse, Sister Isabette-Luicie, was astonished because I was late and worried when she saw my face so pale : "What's happened to you, Marcel ?". I can't remember my answer. I was probably dumbstruck because I had been so scared !...

A tittle latyer, my parents entered the classroom and were relieved to find me there.

So I was not a witness to what Monsieur masquelier exoplained in a recent article in "Le Courrier de l'Escaut" under the title "The arrival of the villagers near the body and the threatening German soldiers". I understand that some people of the neighborhood got there first, followed by a member of the Résistance who had come on his motorbike to remove the pilot's identity papers and probably his flight plan. Had he been sent by his hierarchy ? Did he want to impress the villagers ? I don't know. Neither do I know exactly when the German soldiers arrived but my mother, Irène Gorts, reminded me not very long ago that she came back later with a bunch of wild flowers and laid them on the dislocated body of the pilot.

The news that an American plane had crashed immediately went round. 

Strangely there were no roadblocks and, in the afternoon, dozens, even hundreds of bystanders had come from the neighboring villages. On my little bicycle I went with my Aunt Gisèle to join the crowd of onlookers. Youngsters behaved as if they were at a fair, proudly walking about the debris with, hanging around their necks, instruments they did not know the use of. Young girls were searching for bits of canvas which they might turn into clothes, or mica which capable bands couldf craft into rings or pendants.

The occupants could not abide this much longer. A German car arrived towards the end of the afternoon but there was no brutality. They merely told the people to go away. Nobody obeyed so they decided to shoot hem off. With a submachine gun, they started shooting above people's heads. I can remember the panick that ensued. The frightened crowd fled to the paths and the fields. I remember running right after a woman whose physique was not exactly suited to this kind of race. Our bikes were left on the site and we went to fetch them the next morning. None had disappeared.

Of the many rumours about the crash of the plane, one says that farmers who where hoeing their beets in a field near the road leading from Lahamaide to Oeudeghien heard bullets fall around them. The distance between them and the fallen plane must have been approximately 3 kilometres. Experts in ballistic will judge whether this is plausible.  

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