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Joseph Quirk's World War II Story

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Collingdale war vet’s story to grace the silver screen

Kathleen Carey , Of the Times Staff 


COLLINGDALE -- Joseph Quirk was 23 years old when his plane was shot down over German-occupied France, causing him to be rescued by the French Resistance. Now, his tale has cast him as a subject in an independent film of the ordeal.

Six weeks ago, British independent filmmaker William Ennals contacted Quirk’s daughter, Eileen Young, and arranged to interview and videotape the former tailgunner.


Ennals is working on a one-hour documentary titled "Rose" about a 101-year-old lady, Andree Virot Peel, who headed the Resistance in her hometown of Brest and had moved to the Bristol village where Ennals lives.


It was through her efforts that Quirk and 99 other Allied servicemen were able to escape France.


"It stuck in her that the Germans had sort of taken over her country," Ennals said.


By day, she ran her beauty salon, selling perfume to German soldiers. The rest of her time she devoted to the Resistance.


Quirk, now 86 with a family of 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, remembers serving in the 707th Squadron, 446th Bomb Group in the Army Air Corps during World War II.


On Nov. 14, 1943, he had left Africa in a B-24, bound for England with 13 other men. The Germans intercepted their radio communications and dictated false directions, leading them straight through occupied France.


The plane was shot down over Brest.


"It burst out in fire," Quirk said. "It burned back to the tail. They told us to bail out. I was always prepared to jump."


So, he did.


As he floated to the ground, he remembered seeing and hearing children, who scurried as he approached.


"At dusk, several men came out looking for me," Quirk said. "They found me in the weeds. I didn’t know if I was caught."


"Comrade," they called, making him think, "Maybe it’s all right."


He was taken to a garage and then to some apartments. He was constantly moved.


"They were afraid to keep me," Quirk said.


"They had to appear as friends and acquaintances," Young explained.


At one apartment complex, he had a collaborator living beneath him and a Nazi soldier living above him.


Quirk remembered Peel as "Rose," which was her code name. He recalled once being told to follow her, wearing a large hat, down a crowded French street.


Then, on the night of Dec. 1, 1943, he was told by his keepers to get ready to go.


Ennals explained that escapes were tricky, occurring "when the tide was right and the moon in the right quarter."


Quirk said he was taken to the beach on this cold, moonless night. He and several others had to swim against strong currents to a nearby island, about 300 meters away.


There, they were told to await a signal.


They heard someone shout, "Ahoy," but Quirk said they didn’t know if it was friend or foe. So, they waited and heard it a few more times before they decided to respond.


Directed down the shore, Quirk found his way to one of three rowboats.


"The boat I had had a hole in it," Quirk said. But he lucked out -- the other two boats, Young said, broke apart.


Of Quirk’s boat, she said, "He pushed with one hand and bailed water with his boat."


When it arrived at the waiting gunboat, a final wave crashed over it, capsizing it into the sea. Quirk grabbed onto a rope thrown over the side of the boat and was flipped onto the deck by a British sailor.


"They were within minutes of the gunboat going up and going back," Young explained.


Decades later, Quirk is still thankful.


"These English sailors had a lot of courage to come that close into German waters," he said.


Thirty-two men were rescued that night.


Peel was eventually exposed to the Germans and sent to the Ravensbruck and Buchenwald concentration camps, where she stayed until the Allied liberation, after which she returned to a bombed-out Brest. So, she and her mother relocated to Paris and opened a restaurant, where she eventually met her British husband.


Quirk was finally able to begin his trek home to the United States on Christmas of 1943, after he was positively identified as an American.


"I didn’t arrive until two days later," he said. "I was afraid my mother was going to have a heart attack."


When word spread he was home, Quirk said he was met with a line out the door. "They kept coming," he said. "I don’t know how many times I told the story." And he’s still telling it, as his family treasures the piece of parachute that landed him, as well as a dog-tag-sized piece of his plane.


Ennals is hoping to submit his film to various international festivals, as well as possibly showing it on television or having it available for purchase on DVD.


A film editor by trade, he was also thankful for crossing Rose’s path.


"If ever there was a subject for a documentary, this is the one," he said.



©The Daily Times 2006 

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