November 1st, 1945.
Monsieur L’Abbe Robert Nougeot,
Grand Seminaire de St. Dec.,
Vosges – France
Mr. and Mrs. (Biollo)
The Pastor of Chaumousey, having told me that you desired to have some details relative to your dear departed one, I consider it a holy duty to tell you all I know, concerning him.
I am a seminarist of the parish of Urmuiel, which is about 12 kilometers south west of Epinal (Vosges) and south of Raulon, a little village by Renauvoid; therefore about four-kilometers from the spot where the plane fell. I was able to see and hear the explosion of the plane and went immediately to the place of the accident. As far as I can remember it was the night of the 29th to 30th of July that we were awakened, as we had often been awakened before, by the sound of the fortresses of the allies; but that night, we were terrified, the planes seemed to be in great numbers and were being chased by the Germans. A great number of rockets were shot out of the planes. This was not ordinary. We were outside and witnessed rather in thought and hearing than by sight, the terrible conflict going on between our allies and the Germans. We heard a vague sound of cannon grape shot and we saw several rockets blazing. We ran to our homes and instinctively, bent down our heads under the thundering noise, that passed over our houses. We went out again, but just to hear and see the most terrible of all explosions, the ground, the walls etc, were all shaking terribly.
We were all hoping that it was a German plane, as we watched the flames shooting up to the sky. Alas! next morning, before leaving for Mass, I learned that it was an English plane, one of our “own”. Naturally, I prayed with more love and faith, for our brothers, who had just gone to god’s home. When I returned home, my mother told me that a man had come to tell her that over there, were 8 men dying. Without taking the time to have breakfast, I took my vilo, got up on a truck that was going there and I arrived at 7.30. The Germans were not there. I heard that they had been a short time after the explosion, which perhaps explains the identification papers near them and no boots, no stockings on their feet. I also learned that one only had escaped, the pilot or the head man. I would see to him after…I hurried towards the others, hoping to find a sign of life in one or other of them.
The first had died immediately, partly burned. Another had been crushed by an engine or an aft board, another was headless.
Then the third, near whom I remained longer, as I seemed to be drawn to him, was it because he was so young: my own age? a mystery! He seemed to be an officer. His face was so calm in death. It seemed to me that he wanted to speak to me. I was almost fascinated. I prayed there with all my heart. He was calm, with a smile, his mouth was slightly open and through eyelids half closed, I could see a look, not like the others. A few tears had left traces on his beautiful face, of a wonderful home. I repeat, some force kept me close to him, so much so, that I asked myself if I could ever forget that face, which had attracted me so much. Today I am sure that it was for you, poor parents….I feel sure of it.
Now it is with sincere emotion, I was going to say affection (because since, I have been living with him by souvener, in spite of myself, forming between us a kind of mysterious friendship, that I cannot explain or account for.) But I am delaying.. Besides his youth and his rank, something else struck me, - it seemed to me that he had just expired; but alas! I found that he was cold. At any rate, he could not have been dead more than three hours at the most. (How I regret not having been there at the time!) Here are the reasons for my opinion, which seems to be well founded: 1. What impressed me (and many people besides me found the same) was the paleness of his face, a light yellow, very clear, when the other bodies were of a pale violet color. 2. The eyelids were half closed, while the others were closed or deft open. 3. The look of a man, who knew he was dying (this is my candid opinion). there was something very particular in his look full of gentleness in death and a few tears had fallen.
I have the memory of his face very clear. I feel badly about writing this, to you, poor parents, about this poor comrade because I can understand the grief that such souvenirs will awaken.
A face, beardless, an energetic little chin, with a light dimple barely perceptible, a face a trifle thin, a large forehead, where his hair fell a little (color auburn, a little light) hair, not very thick, cut rather short. The form of his face, oval rounded towards the forehead, and pointed towards the chin. I did not remark any wounds on his face. Ordinary neck, around which was a gold medal. I was tempted to take it; but scrupled to do so. It was removed from his neck later, by an individual, who told me that he was going to keep it to send to the family, it will be easy for us to find it.
Taking advantage of the absence of the Germans, I examined the body carefully, to see if there were any wounds, because all that could be seen was a little, very little streamlet of blood coming from the left nostril, to the upper lip and the color of the blood was still reddish (proof that death was relatively recent) Furthermore, the right foot was very crushed, the ankle was very swollen and purple. Apart form that, I found no other wound. He was stretched on his back with his arms slightly in the form of a cross.
Later on, the Germans arrested me, and with others, called me to help. I made it my business to look after the one, who without a doubt, I know to have been your son Peter, and I tried to see if there was anything more of interest, but I was in a very difficult position. Supervised by a German officer, who had already taken from me an identification card, and I did not know whether he intended to keep me a prisoner or to let me go.
The body was placed in the forest, with the remains of the other comrades. The Germans made us cover them with branches of trees. I had barely the time to murmur a last prayer, when the Germans made us gather up the wreckage of the plane, then about 1.30 they searched our pockets, etc. They gave me back my card…but it was in order to arrest me, eight days afterwards, when they condemmed me for three months to prison, in Germany, but thanks to Heaven and the help of the Blessed Virgin and my soldiers, to whom I prayed very specially, I was let free three weeks after, from a cell, in which I had expected to stay until death. I had no doubt about it. Before being arrested, I found out 1. that the Germans had ordered, in several of the villages around, that graves be dug and that definitely the bodies had been taken to Chaumousey, placed in the Church and buried in the village cemetery. On Tuesday (day before I was arreste I went to see the grave and found it covered with flowers; the ground disappeare under a mass of flowers of all kinds)
After comeing out of prison, I had four Masses said for the repose of their souls – in thanksgiving – and I believe that in the neighbouring village, a Mass was also said in thanksgiving.
Here are a few more details, besides the above. The man who escaped I went to see, after having looked after the dead, before the arrival of the Germans and he told me that among his comrades there was a Canadian killed, and that he was a friend of his. He said he knew him particularly well and he loved him. He told me that he was very young. I think it was your son. This man told me that this friend of his was a Catholic, (I knew that from the medal).
I have been trying to locate this man who escaped…and I shall let you know as soon as possible when I get news of him; but perhaps it would be possible for you to get in touch with him more rapidly; he was the chef-pilot I believe, as far as I could understand and was from New Zealand. He was 28 or 30 – engaged and a protestant.
To sum up, I am absolutely certain that this little Canadian, whose face I have never forgotten, is your son Peter Biollo. To make more sure, would it be possible for you to have his photo sent to me? I would be able to verify immediately. For me, there is no doubt. He was the only one between 20 and 21 years old.
Again, my souveners are faithful, because I was deeply impressed and the picture of those poor friends, and particularly this little airman of my own age, has been with me all the time.
I am, dear Mrs. And Mr. Biollo, completely at your service, for any other details that may have escaped my memory and that may be of interest to you. I shall be happy if I can, in any way, lessen your pain and calm your feelings of uncertainty.
consider myself obliged in conscience, and in friendship, to give you any other details. I should feel very pained if I thought that you were afraid to bother me. I repeat again, I desire to be of service to you, absolutely. I am devotedly yours, dear Mrs and Mr. Biollo in profound sympathy and union in prayer for your dear child and your family.
Monsieur l’Abbe Robert Mougeot,
Grand Semenaire de Saint-Dee,
Avenue de Robache
Saint Die - Vosges - France
[Editor’s note: Transcription provided by the collection donor.]