Joan and Brian Teather 1943
- Contributed by
- People in story:
- James Brian Teather, Marjorie Joan Holgate/Teather/Fitchew
- Location of story:
- Wolverhampton, Bayeux, Damme Nr Bruges
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 27 June 2004
A message from 1944
The two stories ‘The Night of the Baked Potatoes’ and ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ were written by Marjorie Joan Fitchew, previously Teather née Holgate, shortly before she was overtaken by the illness that took her from us in 2001.
In the former she briefly mentioned the tragic death of her first husband Brian, when he was shot down over Belgium in 1944 shortly before my brother, John Brian, was born. She would have gone on to tell the remarkable postscript to this. She went on to marry again after the war and to have my sister, Margaret, and me. Later she was widowed a second time when our father, William Fitchew, died in 1994. Reading the Express and Star one night in April 1997 she was amazed to see the name Brian Teather, and an enquiry for his family from a Belgian man who had investigated the crash site of the plane and discovered a gold watch. This had been melted in the explosion but was still recognisable, and Mum knew it to be the one given to Brian by his father for his 21st birthday. As a result the watch has been passed on to Brian’s son, my brother, and my mother found new friends in Belgium, whom she managed to visit once or twice before her health failed. Wilfred and Margaret Morre formed a strong affection for her and became practically family.
James Brian Teather was born in 1922 in Sheffield and was the only child of George and Gladys Teather. Brian volunteered for the RAF before his twentieth birthday and trained in England and Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. He and my mother met at Longdon Hall (mentioned in her story ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’) when he was wounded and she was nursing. They were married in1943.
In 1944 Brian served with 164 Squadron near Bayeux, under Belgian Squadron Leader Remi (Mony) Van Lierde, flying a Typhoon MN-862. On Saturday October 7, 1944, he was on a sortie over Belgium supporting the 3rd Canadian Infantry in ‘Operation Switchback’ — dislodging remaining pockets of German Resistance in the area. Following engine failure and probably being hit by German anti-aircraft fire he crashed near Damme and the plane exploded. His body was found a month later as the Allies advanced, and buried in Bruges. My mother chose the words for his headstone:
He lived and died for those he loved
And those he loved remember
It was a shock his mother never recovered from and my mother never completely got over. As a teenager I used to try to imagine how life must have felt to my mother in 1945; with her plans for the future destroyed by the war, then finding herself widowed and a single mother at twenty-two. Mementoes from the time; poetry books, cards and photographs, give a powerful impression of a pair of very young, very loving couple who never had chance to find out what life together in peacetime might hold. Eighteen months later however, she met and married my father, also an RAF hero, (whose story is told elsewhere) and they were together until his death in 1994. Brian was never forgotten though; she kept his memory alive for my brother, and so for all of us. My own father never treated John as anything but his own son, but thought it important for him to know as much as possible about Brian too. I am sure he felt a great respect for the pilot who, like so many of his friends, had lost his life in the war they had all fought. In 1967 Mum went with my brother and I to visit Brian’s grave in Bruges.
In Belgium meanwhile, Wilfried Morre, who was a small boy at the end of the war, grew up and eventually, fifty-two years later, decided to use his metal detector to explore the site of the crashed plane from a night remembered in the village as ‘a black Saturday’. Thus came to light the gold watch and the search began for surviving relatives. Via the War Graves Commission and the RAF Veterans Association in Wolverhampton the Express and Star article came about. In May 1997 my mother and my brother John, with his son, also James Brian, went to Damme to meet Wilfried and his family and the crash site, and to collect the watch.
Wilfried has written his own account with more detail about the history of the raid and the Typhoon. He was very moved to see Brian’s logbook, and other mementoes, and to put a human face and story to the parts of the aircraft he found and the brief details of name and dates he obtained from the War Graves Commission. On mother’s part she finally learnt more about the awful event that had haunted her — they had never known exactly how the crash occurred. She and his family had always worried that he had suffered a slow and painful death. The degree of melting of the watch proved that the explosion had been so intense that death would have been instantaneous.
Wilfried and his wife became very important to my mother in her last years; she was still grieving the death of my father when they made contact, and they proved to be a great support to her. She loved to get their frequent letters and Wilfried — who has taught himself impeccable English via the BBC — telephoned her nearly every Sunday. She made several visits to them in Bruges; one of which I accompanied her on and also found Wilfried and Margaret to be exceptionally warm and kindly people. We are still in touch.
My mother once said that she could not help but feel that Brian had somehow sent Wilfried to make contact on his behalf and bring her comfort, at a time when she most needed it.
In September 2000 my mother paid for and Wilfried organised the installation of a wooden bench on the canal walk near the crash site. On the commemorative plate is the following inscription:
His family remember
RAF typhoon pilot James Brian Teather
Aged 22 years
Who lost his life near Damme on October 7th 1944
fighting for the liberation of Belgium
When you go home think of me and say
For your tomorrow I gave my today
Following her death in May 2001, James, Brian’s grandson, took some of her ashes out to Bruges to place them on Brian’s grave, as she had requested in her will.
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