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15 October 2014
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Before I forget

by WMCSVActionDesk

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Edmund John Bird
Location of story: 
Epinoy, France
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
17 November 2005

My name is Edmund Bird (nickname Dick) and I was born in November 1922. My true story happened during the Second World War, in the year 1942.

The group to which I was attached was located in a village called Epinoy which was near Calais.

The events in my story were carried out from a base which is in a part of Calais, and represents only a very small portion of the war. I had the job to do at the time, involving detachment from Epinoy from a group of approximately two dozen RAF personnel.

The purpose of setting up this site was to carry out part of the assembly of an air firing range, as there are clearly a large number of people to which this concept is unknown. To give the broad description of such a placement, machine guns fitted in aircrafts carry out their practice runs leaving from the headland and going out to sea. Of course, this involves setting up a fairly large installation to cover the features required. At that time the area was desolate and there is evidence of this in the present day existence of a holiday resort which is know as Quend-Plage.

Recently, I wrote to a holiday bureau for that area, and established a brief connection with the holiday organisation.

An interesting feature that has remained, at least in photographic records, consists of a vast number of mine fields. These mine fields were under the control of Rommel (a German commander) who reportedly expanded the mine fields to minimise the effects of any sea-borne landings. In addition to the mine fields were large spikes to again prevent us from landing an aeroplane.

This is how my story begins. It was a wet and dull day when our squad was at a smaller base site. On this particular day the group of us were called to be taken by a lorry to the waters edge where there had been a mine field explosion. We were required to rescue the injured.

We found out the details about the mine field which was a very large area stretching north and south across the damaged area. We were met by a number of French civilians who carried us out over the mine area. One French man was already severely injured. Three of the men in our group were mine disposal specialists and they carried out the dangerous task of marking out the unsafe areas.

When we arrived at the heavily mined area, we could hear the whistle of the mines which were detected by electro-magnetic means (similar to today’s version of a mental detector) and tapes were pinned down to give a supposedly safe path. In addition, the surface of the mine area was overgrown with reeds.

At that time, there were several French civilians who explained to us that one man was severely injured and we could hear his cries. This man had been shooting rabbits in the mine fields because he needed food to feed his wife and family of six children.

In addition to our de-mining party, a group of Algerians whose technique involved sliding long iron rods through the top level of the sand at a shallow angle in the hope that the mines would not be triggered. We had to ask the Algerians to withdraw from the extremely dangerous area. The Algerians relied on their rods to ensure the minimum amount of danger. The effects of this on us Englishmen was to insist on the Algerians being drawn back. By this time, the wounded Frenchmen (the one shooting the rabbits) had died due to a mine explosion.

During this day a total of 15 German planted mines were exploded. We were then sent back to the base airfield in Epinoy having risked our lives without authority from above. However these events were just part of a normal day in the RAF during World War Two.

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Joanne Brown a volunteer with WM CSV Actiondesk on behalf of Edmund John Bird and has been added to the site with hispermission. Edmund Bird fully understands the sites terms and conditions.

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Message 1 - Before I forget

Posted on: 17 November 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

It would appear that Mr Bird has forgotten that the area he describes in his story was occupied by the German forces from May/June 1940 until June 1944. It is therefore extremely doubtful that he would be allowed to build anything for the RAF !


Message 2 - Before I forget

Posted on: 17 November 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

In fact later than that, Calais was captured by the 3rd Canadian Division on 30 September 1944. Generally, mine clearing for civilians would have a low priority and would not be carried out immediately.

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