More than 450 planes took part in the mission to bomb German held airfields at Bordeaux, Cognac and St. Jean d'Angely and an aircraft engine factory on the outskirts of Paris. 25 of the planes came down due to enemy attack and bad weather with the loss of life of many of the airmen. Some who were able to bail out were taken prisoner and an equal number managed to evade capture with the aid of French patriots. Robert Wilcox, aged 27, was one of them and landed in marshes near Saint-Martin 10 kms from Saujon. He was first helped by Louis and Jeanne Delpech a family who lived near Saujon, then a second family Edouard and Léona Nadeau and their 23 year old son Frédéric who at incredible risk looked after Robert in their farmhouse near Gémozac for more than eight months until the area was liberated by the FFI Dordogne/ Charente in the second week of September 1944.
|Lt Robert B. Wilcox in October 1943|
The story begins in a barracks room shared by Lts. Al Behrend, Bombardier; Harold Freeman, Navigator; and Robert "Peck" Wilcox, Bombardier at Polebrook Air Base, near Oundle, Lincolnshire on December 31st 1943.
I sat bolt upright in my bunk, the sergeant with his G.I. flashlight was awakening crews. He says, "Lt. Wilcox, Lt. Freeman, breakfast is being served, briefing at 1230 hours". I shook my head trying to clear the cobwebs and get awake. My gosh, I hadn't been in the "sack" very long. Just got back from Peterborough about midnight and had been on a mission over Germany the day before. Hadn't hardly figured on another mission today but oh well, get these missions over with and get back to the States. Only twenty to go as I had qualified for my Air Medal the previous day. We met Bender and Grupp, our pilot and co-pilot, at the mess hall and had our bacon and eggs with plenty of coffee and not much talk. About everyone figured we would "sit down" on this last day of the year and almost everyone was planning on a New Year's Eve Party. I know Andy, our engineer, Harold Long, assistant engineer, and I were looking forward to going back to Peterborough for a gala New Year's Eve.
[There would be no New Year's Eve party on the 31st December 1943 for more than 250 airmen who had taken part in the mission. Some had been killed in action, were missing in action or made prisoners of war. On 15th January 1944 Robert's parents received news from the War Department in Washington that their son was missing in action since 31st December 1943. They would not know his fate until September 1944.]
Robert continues :
[The distillery was 5 kms from Saujon in the direction towards Saintes. Its owners were Louis and Jeanne Delpech. Robert decided to sleep in one of their barns. When he woke he noticed Mr. Delpech in the garden chopping wood and allowed himself to be seen. He asked Robert if he was American and then signalled him to wait there and went indoors to fetch his wife.]
[The land around the Delpech's distillery was heavily mined by the Germans and in 1944 one of their sons aged only 14 years stepped on a mine and died of his injuries. In 1946 Robert was able to contact the Delpech family to thank them for their help.]
[The family were Edouard and Léona Nadeau and their son, aged 23 was Frédéric. They lived in a farmhouse at Bénigousse in the commune of Saint-Simon-de-Pellouaille near Gémozac.]
It had been a long time since I had been in a bed and I slept like a baby. The next morning when I awoke the son was already up and dressed. They brought me water to wash on a wash stand in the bedroom and after a good morning greeting from all three Mama brought me my breakfast-hot milk toast.
|Photo of Robert Wilcox from an article in the|
Blue Mound Herald and Review
|Edouard and Léona Nadeau with Robert Wilcox their American son "Bob" in 1977|
Soon after the war Robert married June Uhil and they had two children, their son was given Edouard as his middle name. Robert was a farmer and worked as a rural mail carrier in the Blue Mound area until he retired. He died in 1999 at the age of 82 and is buried in his home town of Blue Mound in Illinois alongside his wife who died a few years later in 2003.
In November 2015 the Wilcox family received a letter from the Deputy Mayor of Saint-Simon-de-Pellouaille inviting them to a ceremony in honour of the Nadeau family, organised for December 19th by Souvenir français and the Consulat des Etats-Unis. Robert's grand daughter Kari Wilcox Foster accepted the invitation and flew out from the U.S. to attend.
The day began with a service in the village church then the laying of wreaths at the Monument aux Morts with the American and French flags flying. This was followed by the unveiling of plaques at the Nadeau family tombstone in the cemetery and at the their old house at Bénigousse. Both ceremonies were attended by nearly a hundred people including Thomas Wolf from the U.S. Consulate at Bordeaux, the Deputy Mayor of Saint-Simon-de-Pellouaille Claude Lucazeau who had organised the ceremonies and two historians who specialise in Allied air crashes in the South-West of France during the war, Bernard Ballanger and Michel Souris. A youth choir sang the American and French national anthems.
Kari Wilcox and Thomas Wolf took the opportunity to view inside the old house which has hardly changed since the war and empty for some while. Its new owners, M and Mme Dédouche, are in the process of renovating it.
In the village hall an exhibition displayed the story of Robert Wilcox, his mission and the Nadeau family showing many press articles that have appeared over the years on their story. A fantastic story and an honour to be able to present it here.
L'aviateur tombé du ciel (lien)
L'acte de bravoure des Nadeau (lien)
L'hommage franco-américain aux Nadeau (lien)
Video : France3 - L'hommage à une famille de résistants (lien)