Collingdale war vet’s
story to grace the silver screen
Kathleen Carey , Of the Times
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
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
"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
"These English sailors had
a lot of courage to come that close into German waters," he said.
Thirty-two men were rescued
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
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