Two Wells resident Gerry Dowling travelled to France last month to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the death of his uncle during World War II.
Accompanied by wife Jenny, Gerry honoured the ultimate sacrifice of Flight Sergeant George Edward Dowling, known fondly as Teddy, who was killed over the small farming village of Ellecourt in northern France on July 5, 1944.
Brother to Gerry’s dad, Harry, Teddy was the youngest of seven children, and grew up at Port Hughes on Yorke Peninsula.
A tail-gunner in the Royal Australian Air Force, Teddy manned the gun at the rear of a Lancaster bomber aeroplane, and was on his first operational mission when he died.
He was only 20 years old.
Short in stature, Teddy was perfectly suited to his role as tail-gunner – being small meant he could fit more comfortably into the confined rear of the plane.
“Some say he saw the war in reverse,” Gerry joked of Teddy’s rearward-facing position.
When the plane Teddy was in was shot down over Ellecourt, the local villagers buried all seven men in the local cemetery and have continued to care for their graves to this day.
“This village has looked after them ever since,” Gerry said.
“The local council decided to have a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary and invited the relatives of the crew to attend.”
A memorial church service, followed by a graveside service and civic reception were held to mark the date.
A Vietnam veteran himself, Gerry said the trip was an emotional reminder of a time gone by.
“Having been brought up when I was, when God save the Queen was the national anthem, everything was sort of focused around the country, we felt like we were part of it,” Gerry explained.
“This trip was like a pilgrimage and the fact Uncle Ted is buried there, made it somewhat emotional.”
Gerry says the whole village turned out to participate in the commemoration and he was fortunate to meet one resident who was just 11 years old when the plane crashed.
“She’s been tending the graves and she was very emotional,” he said.
“The mayor, who was a big hulk of a man but a big teddy bear, said ‘we want you to go back to your family and tell them that your uncle is now one of us, we respect him and we will look after him forever’.
“The village people were absolutely amazing and very humble. They were just lovely people and it was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Gerry also lost another uncle in WWII, Peter Dowling, in the Montevideo Maru as a Prisoner of War (POW) when it was torpedoed by the US Navy on its way to Japan on July 1, 1942. The five Dowling brothers, including Gerry’s dad, Harry, all served in WWII, with Teddy and Peter’s names listed on the Moonta War Memorial.
A regional tourism award is still named after Gerry’s dad and is presented each year to a resident for services to regional tourism on Yorke Peninsula.
While their three-week overseas trip was based around a significant event in Gerry’s life, he and Jenny took the opportunity to also visit relatives and other places of interest such as Cornwall, York and Whitby.