We would like to end the year with a story from the community, one that illustrates the extraordinary connections that are made here amongst the members of Blipfoto.
This is a long post but we think it’s worth it. If you don’t have time now, come back when you do! If it’s a TLDR for you, the short version is: The Blipfoto community makes amazing connections across continents and decades – please help us make this a Happy New Year for new (and existing) blippers by visiting and commenting on their journals, and let’s see if we can create some more magic together.
WWII: Loss of a Bomber
Our story actually starts before most of us were born, on Dec 4th, 1944, towards the end of the Second World War. A squadron of 19 Lancaster bombers conducted a raid on the Heilbronn railway yards in Germany. Although the mission was successful, two of the planes were lost on the return home. One of these was captained by George Wall, the father of WWombat (Barb).
George was a young pilot of just twenty-two years of age, all the way from Australia. His aircraft was shot at by a Messerschmitt and two of his men, both gunners, were killed directly as a result. George continued to pilot the stricken plane in order to give his remaining crew the chance to bail out. Bill Wulff and Eric Dunn were first, using the front hatch, and landed on the German side of the Rhine. Artie Clarke was next, and it still not known for sure what happened to him, although it seems possible that he came down in the river itself and was drowned. Roy was at the back of the aircraft and unable to open the rear door, even after trying to break through with an axe. He fought his way back through the plane to find George still at the controls, waiting for him. He parachuted out, closely followed by George himself. The two of them landed on the French side of the Rhine.
Prisoners of War
The plane was witnessed blazing like a meteor as it narrowly missed the village of Holtzwihr in the Alsace, crashing in some woods nearby. The bodies of the two gunners who went down with the plane were recovered from the wreckage and interred in the village churchyard. The four known survivors all had their own extraordinary stories to tell, each of them being captured and held as prisoners of war. George, Roy and Bill eventually got reunited at the same prison camp, but not Eric. He was actually found by Russians rather than Germans, so-called White Russians who had enlisted in the Germany Army to fight the Soviets - the Red Russians. Eric was forced to slog his way on foot across Germany to the Polish border, only to be turned around, in the face of the Russian advance, to be marched all the way back to the Dutch border, from where he was finally repatriated at the end of hostilities. He was a boy of just nineteen years old.
Discovering the Crash Site
The men lost contact with each other. It is doubtful whether they would ever have spoken to or seen each other again if it wasn’t for the resolve of two Frenchmen from Holtzwihr. Back in 1985, during the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the village, young Patrick Baumann became fascinated by the stories he was told about that time. He heard talk of a large aeroplane going down in a nearby forest towards the end of the war. Together with Joseph Barthelemy, the site of the crash was located and wreckage discovered that indicated the plane was British. The two men started out on a quest to discover more about its history.
The task proved to be far from straightforward, a truth that bears witness to how privileged we have now become in our access to information via the internet. Three years passed and although they had managed to identify the plane and find out the names and ranks of the crew on board, their efforts to trace the men had proved fruitless. On the verge of giving up, the last throw of the dice was an advertisement placed in an ex-servicemens’ magazine, seeking information. The trail at last started to get a little warm. Some useful contacts were made and the French investigators were finally put in touch with Roy Hill, and then George Wall in Western Australia. Roy and George then got involved in the effort to trace the other two men.
Once again, the task was far from straightforward. Eric was only found as a result of an appeal put out on the Searchline TV show, produced by London Weekend Television and hosted by Cilla Black. George eventually managed to track down Bill, another Australian, to New South Wales. Letters winged their way between England, Australia and France. There was a lot of catching up to do. Half a lifetime had passed.
The following summer saw Roy and George accept an invitation from the people of Holtzwihr to attend a celebration. They got to meet Patrick and Joseph, and visit the site of the crash. It was an extraordinarily emotional event for everyone involved. Eric wasn’t able to attend, but he did meet up with George and Roy on a subsequent occasion. Sadly, Bill’s ill health never allowed him to visit the village himself.
A Blip Connection
This is the context to the events that unfolded at the beginning of this month. On Dec 4th, Barb (who lives in the Blue Mountains of Australia) realised that fellow blipper Alsacienne (Michele, who is - rather appropriately - our Community Director, and lives in Washington DC), was actually in the Alsace, visiting her mother. Barb casually asked in a blip comment if she might be going anywhere near Holtzwihr. It so happened that she was. She was going to be just a few minutes away and Barb wondered if Michele could take for her a photograph of the plaque on the Town Hall that honoured her father.
That was accomplished easily enough (here), but Michele thought she’d try to make contact with the mayor, blippers always being open to an opportunity. Unfortunately, the town hall turned out to be closed but, spotting some movement inside, she started waving arms around to attract attention. To cut yet another long story short, she was spotted and after explaining her reason for visiting the village, Michele ended up following a man on his bike to the house of another man, who drove her to the forest and then walked her along a faint path to the site of the crash, to see the memorial to the crew. Coffee and cake and conversation duly followed and Michele now has an open invitation to return to hear more stories. The wonderful hospitality of the village of Holtzwihr has now reached out to the United States.
Being the focal point of this connection proved to be a highly emotional experience for Barb, bringing back all kinds of memories, but mostly pride in her father, who sadly passed away six years ago. It was only after Michele posted her shot of the memorial that she realised the significance of the day that she’d made contact. It was Dec 4th, exactly 73 years since the night of that ill-fated flight.
The power of the Blip community
We offer you this story, not just because we found it astonishing in all its details, but to highlight how Blipfoto connects people around the world. It was perhaps the main reason why so many of us were moved to try to keep the community alive.
This is the day when we tend to reflect on the events of the past year and when perhaps the value of blipping is most valued. Whether you blip every single day or not, there is no better way of recording the ups and downs of life. Many people started their blip life with the start of a new year so this would be a great time to challenge someone you know to do a 365 project on Blipfoto. Who knows? They might get addicted, like so many of us, and become a full member of the community. So, please, spread the word today, and tomorrow. Let’s see how many new people we can recruit. Also, try to make a point of checking in with some new journals (it’s one of the browse options) over this next week or so to give any newbies some encouragement. As has often been said, the first ten blips are the hardest. Every comment means so much in those first few days.
That just leaves us to wish everyone here a very happy 2018. Enjoy your blipping everyone.