Sunday, July 5, 2009

Summer Shorts: A Mountain in Wales

A propeller from the "Lil Lass" memorializes the crash of a B-26 on Carn Llidi during World War II. Shirley Wetzel and Gwen Scoggins traveled to Wales for a memorial ceremony in 2005.

By Pat Browning

This is really Shirley Wetzel’s story. She writes:

“In late summer, 2003, while skimming through my hometown newspaper, the Comanche (Texas) Chief, I was surprised to see a name I recognized. A man in England, I read, had written in search of relatives of 2nd Lt. Hulbert H. Robertson, who served in the Army Air Corps in World War II. I knew that name well. Hulbert was my mother’s first husband, father of my half-sister Gwen. He died on June 4, 1943, when his B-26 Marauder crashed into a Welsh hillside. He was buried in the American Cemetery near Cambridge, England.

"Gwen was not quite two years old when her father died, too young to remember him. My dad raised her and loved her as his own, but from early on I knew that my big sister and I had different biological fathers. Her daddy was the smiling young soldier whose picture hung on the parlor wall of his parents’ old dog trot cabin in the country near Comanche.”

The “man in England” turned out to be Steve Jones, a firefighter and aviation history buff living in Port Talbot, Wales. He had spent 10 years researching World War II military aircraft crashes in southern Wales, and had copies of the accident report and other official documents that included details of the crash. He invited Shirley and Gwen to visit him, so on March 15, 2004 they flew from Houston to London, and Steve was there to meet them.

In an e-mail, Shirley told me of meeting people who remembered the crash:

“(The Lil Lass) was in heavy fog and never saw it coming -- we talked to a couple of people who'd been children at the time and remembered hearing the plane coming -- "my father heard it and said ‘that plane will never make it over the mountain’-- then there was a crash, and silence. All the farmers around ran up the mountain (a hill, really, 600 ft.) to see if they could help, but there was nothing they could do. They took the bodies down to St. Davids Cathedral as a sign of respect while waiting for the Americans to come for them.

"My mother, who never knew much more than that his plane crashed in Wales, has been so thrilled to get all this information. She had always worried that he'd been all alone high in the mountains, but that wasn't the case at all. We brought back a stone, some dirt and a few pieces of metal that's still on the hillside so she can put them under a marker in his family cemetery.”

Shirley wrote an excellent account of her visit, calling it “A Mountain in Wales.” I posted it on my blog (Morning’s At Noon) in April this year, and not a day goes by without someone from Europe (mostly the UK) landing on her story. A couple of days ago I had a visitor from Bratislava. Now there’s a name to conjure with.

Shirley’s story, with several photos, can be seen on my blog at

Here are some moving excerpts from her visit to the Cambridge American Cemetery,where many American soldiers are buried, and to the British Museum.

… Arthur took us to the Memorial building, which is separated into a large museum room and a small devotional chapel. A glass wall overlooking the cemetery contains stained-glass replicas of the seals of all the states and U.S. territories represented in the cemetery. On the opposite wall are large maps depicting the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

A magnificent mosaic by Francis Scott Bradford of Connecticut is the most striking part of the building. On the wall above the altar, the Archangel trumpets the arrival of the Resurrection and the Last Judgment. The mural continues across the entire ceiling, with depictions of World War II aircraft flying into the arms of angels. An inscription runs around the edges:

“In proud and grateful memory of those men of the United States Army Air Force Who from these friendly skies flew their final flight and met their God. They knew not the hour the day nor the manner of their passing. When far from home they were called to join that heroic band of airmen who had gone before. May they rest in peace.”

… the British Museum … our final stop. As we walked in, I noticed a carved panel on the front wall, a memorial to museum employees who “went from this museum and fought and fell in the war 1914-1918.” Ten names were listed. At the bottom, under the dates 1939-1945, four more names had been added.

In between was a stanza from a poem by Laurence Binyon, “The Fallen.” It captured perfectly the purpose of our journey:

“They shall grow not old/
As we that are left grow old/
Age shall not weary them/
Nor the years condemn/
At the going down of the sun/
And in the morning/
We will remember them”

Many thanks to Shirley Wetzel for sharing her stories, which remind us of the great debt we owe to those who paid for our freedoms.


Jean Henry Mead said...


Caroline Clemmons said...

These two posts are both very stirring. Thank you for sharing. I'm glad to find your site.

Marvin D Wilson said...

Wonderful shorts, Pat. Thanks for sharing them in this post!

The Old Silly

Mark W. Danielson said...

I always enjoy historical stories like this, Pat. Thanks for keeping these memories alive.