A four engine RAF Halifax crashed on the Pic du Douly on the night of July 13/14 1944, at 1,400 meters altitude in the Haut Nistos in the Commune of Sacoué.
It came from Blida Algeria. It was crewed by 7 men who all perished in this disaster. Its mission was to parachute weapons, munitions and equipment to the Maquis of Nistos –Esparros. This crew
took enormous risks to execute its night mission in the Piedmont of the Pyrénées occupied by the Germans.
Navigational equipment then was not what they are today. This kind of night time flying required highly trained crews. To succeed, visual contact with the ground was necessary.
On July 13 at around 23:00 H, fog set in and it may have been the root cause of the crash that thwarted the Halifax bomber's mission.
It’s on the afternoon of July 17, that the aircraft was discovered by François Rumeau and Pierre Seube of Nistos. René Rumeau a young shepherd boy that was nearby was told by them to go and warn Mr.Lucien Rumeau, the country school teacher in the Haut Nistos, the latter being in contact with the Résistance.
The next day on July 18, a group made out of Lucien Rumeau, Mr. Esteve, Mr. Mousis and Mr. Courby and a detachment of the Louis Nasare group of the Réssitance leave the village at dawn. It then links up with an other group composed of Mr. Nogues of Seich, François Bracali, Alexandre Seube, Alphonse and Michel Bracali, Jean Rumeau and our young fifteen years old shepherd boy René Rumeau.
They reached the crash site after a 3 hour climb. It took an entire day to gather clues, dog tags and jewelry so as to identify the bodies and proceed with the burial. This was a hard task for the young men of the Résistance and the inhabitants of Nistos. One by one the bodies were laid in the weapons containers and then deposited in the graves. Once the burial was done, Mr. Esteves then ordered the young Résistance fighters to present arms, this was then followed by a minute of silence.
The grim reality of war was once again to be confronted, the Germans can strike at any time, all that occurred had to remain secret. The Résistance fighters of the Maquis know that they can trust the villagers of Nistos and the Arize. A few days after the burial, it is by the dozens that the inhabitants have climbed up to pay their respects and flower the graves. The authorities were informed by an official report of the Gendarmerie of Loures Barousse of September 4, nothing will be done about it.
It is the British, the inhabitants and the ex- Résistance fighters who will for the next 46 years care and maintain this grave site as if these men were their very own sons. At each anniversary of the crash the graves are flowered by the English and the inhabitants. Throughout the years the huge carcass of the aircraft will progressively be dismembered and taken away.
Many inhabitants came to flower the graves on Sunday July 30 1944
The 1st fence done around the cemetery in August 1944. The picture was taken in 1945, Paul Rumeau is sitting on the fence and his sister Janine Rumeau is in front of him. Both are the children of the junior high school teacher Mr. Rumeau.
The first fence was destroyed by the weather, a second one was built. The cement stakes were brought up with a sled pulled by two cows, the trip up took 4 h 30. The peope who participated in the building of the fence were Joseph Rumeau, Pierre Campan, Jean-Marie Maupomé. Also in this photo of 1951 the British father of one of the crewmen, Roland Estève, the daughter of this British father, Mr. Noguès ( mayor of Seich) Pierrot Estève, M. Estève (one of those responsible for the parachute drop of July 1944), Mme Estève.
August 13 1953 ceremony marking the 10th anniversary
of the death of the 7 British and Canadian airmen.
Ceremony of Sunday August 13, 1954.
This ceremony has been the most important one ever held amongst all those that have been organized .
It was prepared by the veterans of the Résistance of the Hautes Pyrenees, the entire population of the valleys and with Mr. Rumeau and the veterans of the 3201.
On the morning of August 13,1954 literally hundreds of the inhabitants of the region undertook the long climb towards the cemetery via the Nistos valley and Arize valley.
Many families from England came and were accompanied by many of their Royal Air Force friends.
Some of the participants took more than 4 hours to reach the cemetery, others arrived when the ceremony was well underway.
The ceremony started at 1400H with splendid weather.
45 paratroopers of the French 35ème RAP (35th Airborne Artillery Regiment) commanded by a lieutenant gave the salute and military honors. First, there was the unveiling of a copper plaque that was offered by all the inhabitants of Nistos. It is shown here below, and it was sealed to the rock that still exists today. The plaque reads “In this spot rests 7 British and Canadian airmen we invite you the passerby to take time to remember them”.
The last roll call was made by a British national and by Mr. Jean Bordes , a veteran of the 3201.
For the first time a priest was present to bless the fallen.
This very moving ceremony was without speeches and in front of a large crowd and flowered graves.
Arrival of Commander Thomas at the cemetery on Sunday June 1st 1986, accompanied by Mr. Xavier Rumeau, Mayor of Nistos and Mr. Soubiran veteran of the 3201. On the right Mr. Castéran served as guide for this group by passing by the Arize valley .
Among them was Mr. George Walsh, brother of James Edward Walsh, mechanical Sargent who is buried at the Douly cemetery since July 18th 1944.
Commander Thomas who led the RAF group had with him a group of apprentices from the RAF Technical School.
Accompanied by Mr. Xavier Rumeau the mayor of Nistos, by marcel Soubiran a former fighter of the 3201, by jean Recurt and a dozen inhabitants of the valley , the apprentices , Commander Thomas came up to the cemetery on June 1st 1986. It is Didier Castéran who guided them up through the Arize valley.
A ceremony then took place. Taps was played with a trumpet. It was played by Commander Thomas in the fog filled area, it was a very moving moment.
In the following days the members of the group improved the area. They will mark out the cemetery with flat rocks and make a stone alley leading to the stele. In addition, they will gather in one spot all the remains of the aircraft.
2 small bronze plaques on a wooden tablet remain as silent witnesses to the coming over of Commander Thomas and his group. Group of young apprentices of the RAF’s Technical School. They came by bus from Great Britain. They stayed at Nistos from Saturday May 31 to Saturday June 7 1986.
Group of young apprentices of the RAF’s Technical School. They came by bus from Great Britain. They stayed at Nistos from Saturday May 31 to Saturday June 7 1986.
Cérémonie du 27 Août 1994 - Inauguration du Mémorial
Partial view of the August 27 1994 ceremony.
The cemetery is renovated
During 1989 a new road in being built leading to Cap Neste in the Haut-Nistos . On foot, tt is one hour away from the Anglo-Canadian cemetery (clos du
Douly). Several people will discover this place that has existed for the last 45 years.
On Friday 24 1989, Jean Anouilh et Jean Bordes , 2 veterans of the 3201 FTPF meet Mr. Virnuls the Consul of Great Britain in Toulouse , he learns from them of the existence of the cemetery.
The Consul will advise the Director of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at Beaurain (62217) (CWGC France Sector)
The airmen were officially considered M.I.A.’s (Missing In Action)
Sunday May5 1991, Colonel Westland Director of the CWGC (France Sector) will come to the cemetery. Later on Mr. Heath and Murray will come over, they will also be accompanied by Jean Bordes, they will make a study in order to renovate the cemetery.
Thursday December 2 1992, official boundary marking by Mrs. Tonneau of the French Veterans Affairs. The land is given to the state by the family of René Rumeau of Nistos.
Wednesday September 15 1993, Mr. Kennedy Director of the CWGC (France Sector) lets it be known that they can not renovate the cemetery. Tuesday September 21 1993, the French Résistance Veterans of the Hautes-Pyrénées in conjunction with the SF of the Comminges propose to the Director of the CWGC (France Sector) to renovate the cemetery.
Saturday December 11 1993, Mr Bordes presents in situ, a renovation project to Mr. Delphin Norbert , teacher at the
Technical High School of Gourdan-Polignan. He accepts to make a complete study on behalf of the ANACR of the Hautes-Pyrénées.
Monday December 13 Mr. Delphin and Bordes set the chocks in place. The construction materials are those of the Technical High School.
Thanks to Mr. Idiart , deputy and upon presentation of the project by the students of Gourdan, Mr. Leotard, Minister of Defense has allocated the use of a Puma helicopter. The helicopter has transported the sand, cement and crosses to the Clos du Douly.
Tuesday June 28, work begins. Water is taken from a mountain spring and diverted to the site via 450 meters of tubes. The rocks for the walls are in situ.
38 volunteer helpers of the region participated in the renovation.
On Saturday August 27 1994, a ceremony will take place in front of the renovated cemetery.
Friday June 10 1994 09:30H Waiting for the Puma helicopter on the LZ where are 400 bags of 40 Kg (15 tons) and 3 tons of cement.
Meal of the veterans of the 3201 and the helicopter crewmen at the end of the helicopter lift.
Group of railway workers and inhabitants who helped the helicopter lift of June 10 and July 2 1994.
First picture of the renovated cemetery July 30 1994 Picture by Gérard Belais.