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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex residents recalls finding the grave of a Canadian airman 30-years ago in France

- the coincidental finding brought closure to the navigator’s family -

by Sylene Argent

When Mark McGuire was growing up in Maidstone, he knew the story of navigator Edward J. McCloskey, also of Maidstone, who went Missing in Action during WWII. Never did he imagine, as a youngster, that a friendship he would form in France would bring closure to this serviceman’s family.

  In early September of 1989, McGuire was in his late 20s. He was a professional hockey player and coach, and his career brought him to Orléans, France. At the same time, his wife, Karen was studying for her masters in French Linguistics. They were living in France with their oldest son, Conner.

  McGuire described Orléans as a city about the size of Windsor, and it is located around 100 kilometers south of Paris.

  While shopping at farmers’ markets, McGuire and his wife came to know a butcher named Jean Pierre and his wife, Francoise. McGuire recalled Jean Pierre and Francoise had a great love of Canada.

  “They treated our young Canadian family well and usually provided some extra treats for our shopping basket. As the Saturday shopping visits continued, our friendship began to grow. I gave him some tickets to some home games and he continued to stuff our basket with market place goodies,” he noted.

  In late October of that year, the McGuire family was invited to dine at their house. Throughout the evening, the topic of WWII came up. Jean Pierre, McGuire said, had memories from when he was five-years old, growing up on a farm on the outskirts of Orléans, in a town named Saint-Cyr-en-Val

  McGuire learned his friend’s family, in the 1940s, lived near a rail road, which were represented strategic positions during the occupation. He also learned it was common for Allied bomber planes to fly over and attempt to take out the German controlled, French rail stations.

  One morning in early July, 1944, as Jean Pierre and his mother were gathering eggs, they heard an unusually loud bomber coming and knew it was either large or flying very low. They ran out of the barn to have a better look and quickly ran back into the barn because of the deafening noise. They had noticed the plan was an RCAF by a mark on the belly of the bomber, McGuire noted.

  Shortly afterward they heard the exchange of gunfire and a large explosion.

  Jean Pierre then offered to take the McGuire family to the Commonwealth Cemetery because the RCAF bomber crewmembers that crashed near his mother’s farm were among the Canadians buried there.

“As we were approaching the cemetery in his Citroen, I recalled hearing many times from many people of a MIA airman from the village of Maidstone going down in France. I tried not to think about the coincidence, but my mind was racing and I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” McGuire stated.

  He recalled the entrance was extremely well maintained and unlike most cemeteries, this one had very few headstones. They were in a row and were identical in size.

  “As we approached the tombstones, I carefully read the names. I stopped and slowly read one a second time. [It read] E. J. McCloskey, Navigator.”

Recently, Marilynn Scratch, the niece of the navigator, spoke with McGuire at a wedding anniversary. She had asked if he was the one who had found Uncle Ed. At that time, McGuire, with the assistance of his wife, began trying to recall the story in detail.

  Scratch said McGuire provided her mother and her sister, Mary, with photos of the headstone. She said the pictures of the gave site, which held seven tombstones of the flight crew, and the recollection of the story of how he came to find the grave site, provided the Flood/McCarthy, and extended families with valuable closure.

  Thirty-years later, McGuire is humbled to have been able to provide that closure to McCloskey’s family members. He noted the odds of coming across the grave site was the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack.


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