This blog is part of a site named where you can find the stories of more than one hundred planes that during WWII landed or crashed in Portugal. Here I will announce the updates and also publish stories and information related with WWII in Portugal. All the stories will be in English and there another twin blog in Portuguese... forgive if sometimes the English is not always correct...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Family of airman buried in Oporto searches information

On the afternoon of July 13, 1941 Sergeant-airman of the Royal Air Force, William Bernard Oakes, 21, died at the controls of a Wellington bomber of the RAF when it crashed into the sea opposite to Fão, near Esposende., in the North part of Portugal.

Seventy years later, and after consulting several files the family continues to seek answers to questions that were never answered so far, and is trying to reconstruct what happened that day.

William's aircraft plunged into the sea with five other companions (see HERE) ... Their mutilated bodies were gathered in a single coffin and were put to rest in the cemetery of St. James, in Oporto.

Conflicting British reports as quickly explain the accident with a fire in one of the engines, as blame the weather for what happened.

When I got the message from Ian Garth, the brother-in-law of William, I confess I had very little information about this disaster. And even after reading some newspapers of the time, the contradictions did not fade away. In fact...

The daily newspapers from Lisbon "Republica", "Diário de Lisboa", "Diário de Notícias" and those from Oporto "Jornal de Noticias", "Comércio do Porto" and "Primeiro de Janeiro" were not unanimous in their reports about the disaster.

 Everyone agrees that the accident happened at 14.30 hours and that the weather was cloudy and rainy. The sea was choppy, but from here on the versions change...

One disaster, many versions

Some newspapers ensure that local eyewitnesses just heard a plane flying over the area - as if looking for a place to land – and then an explosion when it hit the sea.

In another the witnesses heard not only the aircraft but were also able to see it. At one point it raised his nose and plunged into the sea, where at the impact it exploded ...

The "Diário de Noticias" - and I refer the name because it is the only one that has this description of the accident - details how people heard an explosion before the plane- already in flames - crashed into the sea, leaving behind a trail of black smoke ...

The machine smashed into the sea, according to the news between hundred and 300 meters from the beach.

The fuel and some debris burned on the surface of the water releasing an intense black column of smoke.

"Immediately a group of fishermen, despite the fury of the sea, volunteered to proceed to the site of the tragedy. A small boat was launched into the water, crewed by seafarers Julio Vilela da Silva, António António Herdeiro and Joaquim Soares, taking on board also firemen volunteer and chef of fire department of Fão, Mr. Figueira Gonçalves, "says the Jornal de Notícias Newspaper seconded by other publications.

Portuguese newspaper cuts  from 14 and 15 July 1941, reporting about the accident.
Although most of them are very similar about what happened after the accident, there are at least three different versions about the accident itself.

During the sortie they found no crew, but the vessel collected two parachutes, a rubber dinghy and a raincoat. Latter on a wheel and part of a landing gear would also be found...

Among the debris that arrived at the beach head a letter, bound for Malta, and Canadian distinctives were found...

The tugboat "Teixeira de Queiroz" and a lifeboat from the Shipwrecked Rescue Institute were also called to collaborate on rescue efforts and attempts to locate the bodies.

On the morning of the following day the first sign of humanity was discovered. The mutilated torso of a man, with part of the uniform worn was found in the beach... it bears sergeant's stripes.

Taken to the firebrigade house in Esposende it will be identified as belonging to the Wireless operator of the aircraft, which appears already identified as a Wellington bomber.

The beach is littered with all sorts of debris "such as parachutes, wheels, landing gear, and many packets of mail addressed to Malta," explains once again the Jornal de Notícias.

In the following days - by choice or by imposition of censorship - newspapers silenced the news about the rescue operations.

Only on the 19th July, they return to the subject to report that the bodies had been recovered, and that during that afternoon the funeral would be held.

The English community of Oporto closed shops and services and mass to the funeral. Hundreds of persons are present at the ceremonies.

The urn on the shoulders of British veterans of the First World War. Portuguese sergeants accompany the funeral (above).
Infantry soldiers lined at the paths through which the crowd accompanying the ceremony (below).

The mutilated remains of sergeant’s William Bernard Oaks, Henry Gerald Peel, Colin James Dixon, Trevor Vaughan Davies, Derek Cecil Haynes and Stephen Thomas Mcneil are all joined in one single coffin, guarded, in the chapel, by a guard of honor from the 3rd Machine Guns Company.

At the end of the Mass, conducted by the Rev. Johnson, everybody follows for the English cemetery. The shoulders of British veterans from World War I carry the casket between the different tracks, but there is also a delegation of Portuguese sergeants, Portuguese militaries of various ranks as wel as civilian authorities to integrate the Portuguese national pageant.

Portuguese and British oficials pay homage to the aviators. The air attaché of the British Embassy, Colonel Schreiber (above).
Soldiers fired three salvos in honor of the dead (below)

In the cemetery, members of the 6th Infantry Company, stand guard on the passage of the procession.

Next to the grave, at the time the urn descents to earth, "the soldiers of the Machine Gun Company, armed with rifles, make three successive discharges under the command of a vibrant imperative voice: - Fire," reports newspaper “Primeiro de Janeiro”.

"The English authorities and Portuguese pass one last time before pit, where the first shovelfuls of earth are already falling, and everyone parades without a gesture, a word," concluded the Jornal de Notícias.

The English colony submerged the aviators grave with flowers.

More dramatically, in the theatrical sense of the word, is the conclusion of "Primeiro de Janeiro": "On our side, an English lady – with a austere and noble Profile (...) - is living a deep emotion. The eyes get flooded with tears, but soon she revives and solemnly raises his right hand, draws on the space a V - the symbolic start of the word Victory... "

A public appeal

Given this continued sum of contradictions it was decided to perform a public appeal in order to try to find other reports (perhaps in the local press) and especially memories about this incident...

Finding someone alive or who had knowledge of what happened through memories of family is also important...

Anyone knows or knew the fishermen who did not hesitate to throw themselves into the small boat, despite the raging sea?

Museum Cosforth, England. In the background a Wellington being restored.
Pictured Michael Garth, Ian Garth, Ian Oakes and Fred Oakes, William's

Ian Garth would like to have access to all information about this moment that marked the history of his wife’s family.

To preserve some privacy and avoid being bombarded with information that has nothing to do with this issue, Ian asked me that the messages be forwarded to the e-mail of this Blog “Landing in Portugal” (click HERE).

I promise to forward everything to Ian.

To facilitate this work I would be grateful - whenever possible - to receive the messages in English...

 The family of William Oakes thank in advance all efforts related with the clarification of this matter.

Carlos Guerreiro
Note: All the pictures were sent by Ian Garth.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It was good to fly with you, Tommy

We shared a common passion: the planes of World War II. There was, however, a fundamental difference. I only have my in the air, he had really be in and up there ...

In 1941, at the controls of a Blenheim bomber (see HERE) he made a forced landing near Aveiro... just a small detail in his life.

A test pilot during and after the war, John "Tommy" Thompson flew everything there was, and latter, with his feet on the ground, followed the stories of his aircraft in various publications that have the classics as their central theme.

It was in one of those magazines that he found a small notice: a Portuguese journalist looking for veterans of the RAF who had been in Portugal during World War II ...

Tommy was one of the largest contributors to the "Landing in Portugal!" book... He told me of his experience, but also researched, searched and shared everything he found over several years.

Later, while I was writing my book, he answered many questions and tied up a lot of loose ends.

In November 2008, during the release of the book, I managed to get Tommy to return to Portugal - (a big thank you to the publisher Gabriela Fernandes).

Hardly had he arrived at Lisbon airport, he was questioned by journalists from the Portuguese Newspaper “Correio da Manhã”. They wanted to know if he had seen the book and what he thought of it ...

Tommy was ready with the answer: "I've seen it... It has no crossword puzzles, or sex, so it should not be much."

We went to Aveiro... The army opened the doors nicely and made us welcome at the Base S. Jacinto. The place where Tommy had been taken after the forced landing.

We spent time at the Air Museum in Alverca, where he rediscovered a Spitfire, he had flown as a test pilot - somewhere I have video footage of that visit, I will have to look for it.

He presented the book and signed copies.

I also know he was really surprised, and cherished a lot, the wings that the Portuguse Air Force (FAP) officially offered him… “None of my friends has one of this to wear on his suit”.

José Carias Silva and John "Tommy" Thompson, in Alentejo in 2008, during a Moddeling Show, were he was invited.

There was still time for a trip to the Alentejo, where he admired the cork trees and was a star on a modelist show.

He returned tired, but satisfied.

We would never see each other again.

We arranged a meeting in London... but a small car accident prevented him from appearing.

Last year he invited me to his 90th birthday party... I could not go. How I regret it.

Two Spitfires did a magnificent flying display over his house during the celebration. He wrote me saying he had been in tears.

Although he did not told me, he was already sick...

A few weeks ago I sent him a book with photographs of the Portuguese Naval Aviation. It had pictures of S. Jacinto base in the 40's and of the Junkers aircraft he remembered having seen there...

It was a surprise. He usually reacted quickly to surprises, but this time said nothing.

I waited and ended up becoming insistent, sending more and more e-mails.

Finally a family member told me that Tommy was hospitalized, in palliative care with Prostate cancer and would not return home...

They did a search through the house and found the book of photographs, still in the envelope - It arrived on the day he had been hospitalized...

His son took it to the hospital where Tommy asked a last favour of me. He wanted me to translate the caption of a picture:


Aircraft Bi-engined monoplane, three seater, used in The Beginning of WWII fighter-bomber of the coastal attack. British made, 16 Were transferred to the Naval Aviation under the British-Portuguese That agreement allowed the use of the Azores base (to the allied). These Were the aircraft under control That HAD ship more firepower..."

It had to be the Blenheim ...

I know that the books "The Naval Aviation" and the "Landing in Portugal!" were kept in his room in the hospital and were frequently a topic of conversation.

They were part of his history, his  memories, his world ... and a little bit of mine.

On Tuesday he left for his last flight ...

Tommy's son did not fail to notice that his death was exactly 115 years after the birth of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart ...

Always these links to the world of airplanes.

Thanks for allowing me to fly with you in some moments…

Keep on Flying, Tommy

Carlos Guerreiro

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A few questions to Ronald Weber

Ronald Weber is professor emeritus of American studies at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, United States.

He has published romances and non-fiction. 

His past books include News of Paris, America in Change, The Literature of Fact, and Hired Pens.

His most recent work "The Lisbon Route - Entry and Escape in Nazi Europe" was originally published in March 2011. 

In last April a Portuguese version appeared in the bookshops.
There can find the story of Lisbon as the entry and escape hatch for a Europe deeply involved in WWII.

There is still a discussion about how many refugees arrived in Portugal.

Certain is that thousands found in the Lisbon harbor the chance to escape the Nazi advance. 

Rich people, poor people, intellectuals or just common people arrived in cars, by train, in bicycles and even on foot.   

Land in Portugal – How did you become interested in the story of the refugees, escapees and others that went through Portugal to leave or enter Europe?

Ronald Weber - I was a visiting lecturer in American culture at the University of Coimbra in 1968-69.  

It was then that I first heard stories about German pilots coming to neutral Portugal during the war for rest and recreation.  

But it wasn't until I published in 2006 a book called NEWS OF PARIS: AMERICAN JOURNALISTS IN THE CITY OF LIGHT BETWEEN THE WARS that I recalled those earlier stories when I learned that many journalists and others escaped Europe through Lisbon after the fall of France in 1940.  

I decided then that my next book would be about Lisbon as the great escape hatch of WWII.

LP – Although occupying the same physical space you describe two different countries that rarely touched each other. One for the Portuguese and another for all the others. How was this possible?

RW - The refugees and others who reached Portugal were required by the Salazar government to move on as quickly as possible to countries that would accept them for permanent resettlement.  

As a result, the new arrivals made few contacts with Portuguese citizens beyond workers in hotels and restaurants, agents of shipping companies and commercial airlines, and local police officers.  

Beyond that, the refugees were gathered together in Lisbon and a few others towns, such as Caldas da Rainha and Ericeira, were authorities required them to stay while awaiting resettlement.  Portuguese elsewhere in the country would have had little or no awareness of the many thousands of people flowing through the country.  

But one caution here.  I studied those coming and going through Portugal during the war from their point of view.  

It was their story I tried to tell.  Another story is what the Portuguese may have thought and felt about such new arrivals.  

To get at that story one would have to look into purely Portuguese material in the form of letters, diaries, memoirs, novels, etc.

LP – Reaching Portugal was not – for most of these refugees - the end of the line or the end of the fear?

RW -  Reaching Portugal was the end of the line for very few people (Calouste Gulbenkian was among the few) since Portugal wouldn't allow the creation of a permanent colony of refugees.  

Many had an overwhelming sense of freedom when they reached the country.  But there was always a sense that Germany could end Portugal's neutrality whenever it wished.  There were as well always stories of the Nazis abducting from the streets of Lisbon figures they wanted, especially anti-Nazi Jews.

It was always understood by the new arrivals that full freedom required leaving Lisbon behind.

The Lisbon Route, from Ronald Weber was published in 2011. You can find more about it  HERE.

LP – You have a chapter dedicated to the lights of Lisbon. Was it really something that fascinated the refugees?

RW - Lisbon's brilliant illumination at night dazzled the new arrivals coming from largely blacked-out Europe.  

It hardly seemed possible that tiny Portugal could live as if the war did not exist.

Equally dazzling, especially early in the war, was the abundance of food in Portugal after the shortages and rationing refugees had experienced in Europe.

LP – Was there any story more surprising for you than any of the others?

RW - I knew that wartime Lisbon was a center of spy activity, but I didn't know the tangled extent of it--including the great number of Portuguese employed as low level watchers and tipsters.  

I think a full account of Lisbon as a spy center is yet to be written.  Another area that surprised me was that of relief groups (Quakers, Unitarians, Jewish groups, etc.) who moved their center of operations to Lisbon during the war and made heroic efforts to aid the refugees with funding, housing, and counseling.

Carlos Guerreiro

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Searching for Sousa Mendes refugees

In 1940 the Portuguese Consul in Bordeaux, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, was suddenly confronted with thousands of persons asking for a visas to get to Portugal.

The government had forbidden the Portuguese diplomats to give those visas knowing that the country would be over flooded by thousands of persons that had only one idea – escaping the Nazis.

He disregarded the order and passed thousands of visas…

The Government would – during and after the war – win the recognition as a country that was a friend to the refugees, and also get the respect of the international press…

Sousa Mendes would loose his career and fall in disgrace…

The Sousa Mendes Foundation, in Seattle, has now started a global search for those who were saved by the action of this Portuguese consul. They are trying to locate survivors or family of those who survived…

To know more about Sousa Mendes click HERE.

To know more about the search click HERE.

Best regards
Carlos Guerreiro