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Historic suitcase reveals tragic Second World War story

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The book Six Graves in the Village: A True Story of WWII Canadian Service and Remembrance has launched online.

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A collaboration between first-time author Jason Pankratz, EdD, member of the Royal Canadian Legion, and Frank Moore, member of the Tillsonburg Military History Club, the story’s origins go back to July 25, 1943, when a Halifax Pathfinder bomber, part of the 405 Squadron, was shot down by a German BF110 Messerschmitt near Ten Boer, Netherlands, killing six of the seven-man Canadian crew.

Alex Sochowski, survived the crash, becoming a POW.

“He (Sochowski) has an incredible story as well,” said Pankratz.

“Several years ago Frank Moore acquired a suitcase with a number of artifacts and documents. Over the next seven years he and a team of friends, historians and family members researched the contents, and he basically unfolded this story – and it’s a true story.”

The suitcase, purchased by Moore in 2013, came with contents that included documents from nearly every person on that plane.

“We call it the McCracken suitcase because it came from the navigator, Alexander McCracken’s family,” said Pankratz. “It had death notices, the original telegram that went to Alexander’s (Montreal) family, and it had letters that were connecting all of the different family members of the crew.”

“The McCrackens had no known descendants in Canada,” said Moore, noting that was partly the reason how it became available.

“I have a passion for Remembrance and I’ve done a lot of tours to Europe, visiting battlefields where Canadians fought, and when this suitcase came available… it gave the opportunity to explore it, do research on it, and develop it,” said Moore.

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“The thing that really resonates with me is the ability to contact descendants – I think I had five different crew members that I could find descendants – and the ability to bring them in the equation. They were really appreciative of the fact that their crew will continue to be remembered. So the book to me is the culmination of a seven-year journey… and the descendants’ families will be able to pass it along through generations. And that was just key for me.”

Moore had planned to donate the suitcase, the medals, and all its contents to the municipality of Ten Boer in May 2020, where he had made an in-person visit in 2016, but those plans were put on hold due to COVID-19. The presentation will eventually happen, said Moore, hopefully in 2022.

“I wanted it to go over there so the residents of Ten Boer would understand who was buried in their cemetery. And give the opportunity to tell the story of that aircraft to school children, etc.”

Unable to travel, Moore asked Pankratz to write an official account of his experience with the suitcase and its contents.

“This crew is the only Allied soldiers that are buried in the Ten Boer cemetery,” said Moore. “Soon, when you go and take a look at the stones you will not only see their names but the book will reveal who they were, where they came from, and what they did before they joined the air force. It tells the story, and to have that told for all of the crew, and pull it together into one book, I think was kind of amazing.”

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The book can be purchased online ($24.95) through the publisher’s Volumes website (www.volumesdirect.com). Search for Six Graves in the Village or Pankratz.

“It was a really, really good experience,” said Moore, who enjoyed the entire book-publishing experience with Pankratz. “Not only did it culminate in a book and a story, but it was also interesting pulling all the pieces together, and how it interrelated. I’m very excited about it.”

“We have done a good amount of detailed research into the people,” said Pankratz, noting that includes Moore contacting living relatives.

Six Graves in the Village, authored by Jason Pankratz of Tillsonburg, is now available to purchase online. (Submitted)
Six Graves in the Village, authored by Jason Pankratz of Tillsonburg, is now available to purchase online. (Submitted) jpg, TN

“It’s not a novel, it’s more of a historiography. It’s basically Frank’s account of how the suitcase was acquired and the contents of the suitcase. We talk about the crew and the crash. And then we focus on the contemporary connections. And we talk about the Remembrance aspect. We talk about the Netherlands does because of the liberation and Canadian involvement, and also what the town of Ten Boer does to honour our fallen comrades. They are the only Allied graves in that cemetery – that’s why it’s called Six Graves in the Village.”

The book will appeal to anyone who wants a full history of a tragic Canadian war event, said Pankratz.

“We have got to know each of the crew members, we have got to know the German pilot who shot down… and was also shot down that night as well. We’re not just telling the story about the plane crash in 1943, we’re telling a story how that 1943 plane crash is still relevant today – with family members, with geographical associations and the town of Ten Boer, and the network of people that we’ve connected with.”

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He said the book should appeal to anybody who is interested in the Second World War, anybody who is interested in the liberation of the Netherlands, and anybody who is interested in the air force.

“We want people to buy it because it’s a fantastic story and it commemorates Canadian service. At the end of the day, that is the story that Frank wants to tell. He wants people to remember the sacrifices of Canadian Forces, and to remember what we did overseas to liberate Holland.”

From the first meeting to publishing, the process took Pankratz and Moore about 10 months, which included three months of researching and reading documents for Pankratz.

“I learned a lot about the writing and publishing process,” Pankratz concluded.

“My first love it education and my second love is history and to put those two together… you never know what’s next. Now that I have this experience under my belt, I can definitely see myself committing to another writing project.”

cabbott@postmedia.com

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