Commemoration – Stanley Booker, English officer, survivor of a crash near Dreux: “I should have died in Buchenwald”

Do you feel like you were a hero?
No ! I was lucky to survive. In my crew, the real heroes were my pilot, my radio, who tried to evade the fighters and the rear gunner, Terry Gould, who kept firing to keep the fighters away until all the survivors had parachuted out. . I feel guilty for still being alive, despite having gone through all these hardships, all these dangers and these privations in a Europe on fire and bloodshed.

What was your state of mind on that evening of June 2, 1944, when you took off to bomb the Trappes sector?
As young airmen, we wanted to liberate Europe from Nazi oppression and prevent the invasion of Great Britain. Always anxious, we formed a good team well trained, very professional and very united during and outside the missions. We accepted the fact of bombing Germany, thinking that it would bring the Nazi regime to a capitulation. When it came to bombing railways in France, Belgium or Holland, we did our best to avoid hitting civilian populations. These bombardments were necessary during the period preceding the Landings, it was necessary to cut the supply routes in armament, ammunition and troops towards the defenses of the coast.

At Saint-Georges-Motel, he drinks a glass of champagne when he hears about the D-Day landings

What did you think when your plane was hit by German fighters?
We had an adrenaline rush, we were trained to maneuver out of fighter range, and escape, but my pilot was killed by cannon fire. The radio tried to stabilize the plane as we prepared to jump. It was dark inside, we groped our way, finally we found the escape hatches and opened them. I was very concerned for the safety of my crew.

The incredible journey of five English paratroopers

In particular, you were accommodated at Saint-Georges Motel, near Dreux. Do you have a particular anecdote?
It was there, in a house belonging to Mme Lefèvre, that I learned the news of the D-Day landings, on the morning of June 6, 1944. I was hiding in the gardener’s little house when I was dragged out of bed by the owner and his companion who entered the room, carrying a tray on which were placed a bottle of champagne and three glasses. With a big smile, they said to me: “The Landing has arrived”. We toasted the liberation of France.

Your rescue proves that there were, in the region of Dreux, French solidarity, resistance. Do you owe them your survival?
We, young fugitive airmen, are very grateful to all these people belonging to local resistance groups. To shelter us and hide us from the Germans, these people risked their freedom, their lives and that of their families. They provided us with civilian clothes and a French identity card in anticipation of a crossing of the Pyrenees by the smugglers.

But you have been denounced…
By a Belgian double agent and we were handed over to the Gestapo. I was tortured to deliver information, imprisoned in Fresnes and then deported to Buchenwald concentration camp on August 15, 1944.

“We were hungry, we were dirty and exhausted after almost a year of captivity where we had trembled every day for our lives and those of our companions” Booker Family Photo.

“The Horror and Dirt of Cattle Cars”

What image do you keep of this trip which was the last convoy to the death camp?
The horror and filth of the cattle cars in which we were piled up, departing from Pantin station, near the Gare de l’Est. I saw hundreds of French women of all ages on the platform, forced into the nearby wagon. Worthy and courageous. We were angry, but also worried that those who had hosted us were also part of this convoy.

Were you afraid of dying at Buchenwald?
Within two days, we were scheduled to be executed by the SS. But on October 19, 1944, we were extracted from the Buchenwald camp by the Luftwaffe. To our great relief, we were interned in Stalag 3 of the Luftwaffe for prisoners of war, in Sagan, Poland.

The road was long before freedom…
Due to the advance of the Soviet army, we were ordered to evacuate the camp on January 28, 1945. Walking in the cold and snow towards the west, we joined another prison camp, the Luckenwalde camp near Berlin. This camp was overcrowded and poorly maintained. Soviet troops liberated him on April 21, but held us hostage until May 25, 1945, when we were returned to the US Army. We weren’t able to celebrate VE Day or attend the celebrations that were organized.

“It is the duty of the living
to remember the dead”

What did you think of back on English soil?

We were hungry, we were dirty and exhausted after almost a year of captivity where we had trembled every day for our lives and those of our companions.

With the disappearance of the witnesses of the time, do you fear that we will forget the sacrifice, the commitment of the liberators and their crucial role for the whole of Europe?
I have the feeling that the memory of the Second World War is part of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Commemorations such as the Illiers-l’Évêque memorial day bring communities together in remembrance of the past and the contribution that families have made to the survival and reconstruction of their country.

A final message?
On the Buchenwald memorial is inscribed the following motto: “It is the duty of the living to remember the dead”.

*translated from English by Jean-Pierre Curato, who reconstructed the journey of Lieutenant Booker and his crew. Residing in Illiers-l’Évêque, the former deputy mayor of Nonancourt is one of the actors in the memorial commemoration of the rescue of English soldiers who were victims of the crash of their plane)

Families without news. “The SS treated us with great brutality and did not recognize our status as prisoners of war. Our government and our families knew nothing of our fate. We were on the list of deportees who were not transferable to another camp, those who are deported to disappear from violent death or starvation. »
Always haunted by the worst. “I have lived all my life in memory of the horrors of Buchenwald, every day, every night, the shadow of this horrible memory haunts me. The dirt, the smell of the crematory ovens, the fear, the hunger, the disease and the vision of what one human can inflict on another. »
Death in memory. “I don’t forget the bestiality of the kapos, the murder of 31 special forces soldiers who bravely faced their deaths at the moment of their execution. The little empathy of the other prisoners and the terrible American bombardment which destroyed the armaments factories. »

Interview by Olivier Bohin

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Commemoration – Stanley Booker, English officer, survivor of a crash near Dreux: “I should have died in Buchenwald”