As we pause to observe a minute’s silence on Remembrance Day, that moment of quiet will have extra significance for Year 6 student Charlie Morrison.
Charlie and his family recently returned from France, where they visited the exact site his great uncle, RAAF pilot John Anthony Howard Wilkinson, died during World War II. John was just 20 years old.
In that dense French forest, not far from the German border, there is a memorial dedicated to Charlie’s great uncle John and the six other crew members who died alongside him when their Lancaster bomber was shot down on 28 July 1944.
And it was there that, in September, Charlie was asked by the local mayor to lay a wreath in honour of John.
“I was a bit nervous … but it felt really good to be representing my great uncle in that way,” Charlie, 12, said of that moment.
“I thought about him and what he’d done. He was really young (when he died) with his friends. It’s crazy.”
A personal pilgrimage
The family’s trip to the site – in Rohrbach-lès-Bitche in north-eastern France – was a personal pilgrimage organised by Charlie’s mum, Genevieve Meegan, as a way to honour John.
However, the family’s visit was considered so significant, it made the local paper. Pictures were shared on the region’s official Facebook page. Dignitaries, including the aforementioned mayor, and community leaders made speeches. There were drinks put on at the local Town Hall.
“I always knew what he (John) did (in the war) … I feel proud to have him as my great uncle,” said Charlie, whose uncle, Blackfriars old scholar David Meegan (BPS’84), also travelled to France.
John Wilkinson, a member of the Royal Australian Air Force’s 463 Squadron, was piloting the Lancaster, returning from a bomb attack on Stuttgart, Germany, when it was shot down. All seven crew were killed instantly.
The craters caused when the plane hit the ground still scar the earth. Remarkably, Charlie and his family found debris from the plane on the forest floor – almost 80 years after that fateful night.
“It was really amazing that after all this time those pieces were still there. They were all rusted and we had to clean them up the bring them home,” Charlie said.
He said, after his experience in France, this Remembrance Day would hold extra significant for him.