A small town, greatly moved

Airmen_Gueuning_letter
The people of Braine-Le-Comte, Belgium reach out to bereaved Australians, 1946 (NAA: A705, 163/180/21)

Sergeant Cyril John Stallard of East Maitland, New South Wales, was one of seven crew members, including three Australians, killed when their Royal Air Force (RAF) Lancaster bomber crashed near the small Belgian town of Braine-Le-Comte on the morning of 30 July 1942.

After the crash, the local resistance movement took enormous risks to honour the men who lost their lives. Despite the presence of a German guard at the crash site, a Monsieur E Gueuning recovered the butt of a rear turret machine gun, with the sole purpose of sending it to the gunner’s family as a memento.

Gueuning forwarded photographs of the airmen’s funeral and the crash site to the relatives of the deceased. The funeral, he said, was ‘in the presence of a large crowd, greatly moved’.

Local foundryman Yvon Brancart made headstones of ‘crazy mosaic glasswork’, bearing each airman’s name (where known) and the RAF roundel. At great personal risk – since the Germans made frequent inspections – Brancart hid the headstones in his factory until the liberation of Belgium in 1944.

‘I have rarely seen nicer graves over here for any of our crews’, reported a British officer who visited the town in 1945.

In May 1948, after the remains were identified and reinterred, Sergeant Stallard’s father sent a photograph of his son to Eugene Duquesne who, in keeping with Belgian custom, created an enamel likeness for the headstone. In a touching gesture Duquesne sent Mr Stallard photographs of the airman’s grave showing the headstone created by Brancart and, at its foot, a cross erected by the Germans.

Duquesne’s photographs of the grave of Stallard’s fellow crewman Allan Wyles are held by the National Archives of Australia (see link to casualty report below). The casualty report for the third Australian, Cameron Kennedy, no longer exists.

  • read caption below
    News of a death, 1943
  • read caption below
    Honouring the dead, 1945
  • read caption below
    A father’s gratitude, 1948

A selection of records relating to the loss of three Australian airmen

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017