Sunday, January 17, 2010
Sunday, January 17/10 at the Mardaga
We just got back from a tour around the area with Karel. Again, it was very special. We saw the building where Dad would have lived for those two and a half weeks in early 1945 about 1 km from the airfield. There is a beautiful church beside it now.
We drove to both ends of Y.32 Ophoven airfield – where it was - and looked down the area where the runway was. It is a grassy field right now. We saw how the runway was built by the US Corps of Engineers yesterday at the display. They put down straw, then reinforced steel mesh and then PSP – perforated steel plate (?) – there is a picture which I will post later which has my foot on one piece which the local farmer still uses and who lent it to the display. We also saw the three big coal slag heaps which the pilots would have used as orientation for the airfield. The weather was really bad at that time – rainy, snowy, windy, low ceiling - so they needed all the help they could get.
We saw a huge depression in a corn field not far from the airfield buildings where a V-2 rocket hit and exploded. Karel said the Americans called this “Bomb Alley” because the rockets went right over here on their way west to destruction.
And we saw where the Russian POWs were kept to work for the Germans in the coal mines during their four year occupation here.
All the sand and gravel used for the roads into the airstrip and the strip itself was excavated from quarries in As. Karel said it took a week of steady trucks on the road to haul it all there.
Karel also showed us a beautiful building which used to be the headquarters for the coal mines here – there were three, I think. The building is being renovated and there is some talk of it going to be part of the Belgian Aviation Museum – how wonderful for Karel and his colleagues here if that happens. This was a very important coal mining area up until about 1980.
And then we came back to the community forest behind the Mardaga where it is believed Dad’s Spitfire went down. Bill and Karel walked a short way into the woods, took a picture (see above) and then we drove around the corner to the Mardaga. It wasn’t very far at all and it was downhill. There were no trees there at the time so it was at the top of that small rise. The plane probably hit the ground first and then Dad would have landed, possibly a bit closer to the hotel with his parachute. We can see out our window into the woods and I can imagine Dad walking this way, then around the corner of the building to the front and into the café.
Karel talked yesterday to someone who drove behind the truck that took Dad to the hospital from the Mardaga and he will send us more information as he gets it.
We are having coffee with Karel and Hilde this afternoon and then we will venture out on our own for an early supper. It will be early to bed and then early to rise tomorrow to head to Brussels for the train.
Once again, I will post more pictures as they come in from various sources later in the week and I am more in control of the technology.