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Belgian village honours Australian WWII airmen
Australian foreign minister Bob Carr this week visited the village of Bas-Oha, in Liège province, where the western wall of a tiny church cemetery is a grave marking the deaths of four Australian airmen, reports news.com.au. All were barely out of their teens when they were shot down on August 13, 1944, returning from a bombing raid over Germany. The tombstone reads: “They gave their soul to God, their heart to their country and their body to Belgium.” Had it not been for three generations of villagers, the names John Lourdes Shortal, William Ivon Warrington, George Donald Currey and Douglas Leslie Haynes may have been lost to history. For 70 years this otherwise unremarkable gravesite has been tended and their memories honoured by the people of this village. Carr – in Belgium this week to address the European parliament and meet Nato officials – joined Australia’s ambassador to Nato, Major-General Duncan Lewis, and Australia’s defence attache to the EU, Wing Commander Nathan Ritchie, to become the first Australian officials to visit the site. “We always said we would never forget them. That’s why we are here,” Carr said after laying a wreath at the site. “Every time I see a memorial like this to our war dead I find myself thinking of the farms, the suburbs and the homes these young men came from. I think of the emotions they must have felt.” It is believed the four men were involved in a raid on factories outside Frankfurt as part of a bombardment during the invasion of Normandy. After they were shot down, a band of locals pulled their bodies from the wreck and hid them in a classroom until they could be given a proper burial.
At this week’s wreath-laying ceremony, two 12-year-old girls said the heroic actions of the airmen would always be remembered. Year 6 students Amon and Jolene said: “As in every year we will meet in September to pay homage to the Australian airmen whose lives were lost in Bas-Oha on the night of August 13, 1944.” Monique Jamart, who was 12 at the time, recalled: “The population put flowers on their coffins ... but when the Germans learned about it, they banned each form of ceremony.” Reg Collins, Shortal’s nephew, thanked the townsfolk of Bas-Oha. “I’m deeply touched by the foreign minister’s visit to and laying of a wreath at the grave of this WWII Lancaster flight crew, forgotten in time except for their families and the community of Bas-Oha,” he said.