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Joseph Quirk's World War II Story

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Andrée Peel

Joseph F. Quirk

World War II Veteran Who Escaped Through French Resistance.     


Joseph F. Quirk, 90, died on November 21, 2010.  Born in Philadelphia, he was a lifelong resident of Collingdale and a graduate of Collingdale High School, Class of 1939; where he was an outstanding scholar and athlete- a four year, four letter varsity athlete who also won numerous state medals for track and field.    


He was employed by the Boeing Company as a Production Control Supervisor for over 38 years.    


Serving in the US Army Air Force, Mr. Quirk was shot down and escaped through the Jade-Fitzroy section of the French Resistance during World War II.  The information from his escape and the French Resistance was instrumental for strategic landings on Normandy beaches on D-Day.  His story was detailed in the documentary “Rose” by British filmmaker William Ennals in 2006.  His story has also been featured in newspapers and is documented in both French and British history books as well as the PA Veterans History Project and the US Armed Forces Escape and Evasion Society of which he was a member.


Mr. Quirk served on Collingdale Borough Council for many years.  He also served on the Collingdale and Southeast Delco School Boards and as a community liaison was instrumental in the establishment of the Delaware County Community College.  He was a charter member of the Marshall-McKay VFW Post #5428 in Collingdale and was one of the founders of the Collingdale Swim Club.  He was an officer and active in the Collingdale High School Alumni Association.    


He was a devoted family man who enjoyed spending time with his family, especially summers in Ocean View, New Jersey. 


He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Sarah White Quirk; his son, George (Toni) Quirk of Folcroft; his daughters, Linda (Joe) Kelly of Collingdale and Eileen Young of Prospect Park; his ten grandchildren; and his thirteen great-grandchildren. 


His funeral service will be on Saturday at 11 A.M. at the Griffith Funeral Chapel, 520 Chester Pike, in Norwood. His visitation will be on Saturday from 9:30 A.M. to 11 A.M. at the funeral home. His burial will be with military honors in Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill, Pa.  


Contributions:  May be made to Collingdale High School Alumni Association Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 1426, Collingdale, Pa. 19023; or to the Alzheimer’s Association, P.O. Box 96011,  Washington, DC 20090-6011, or to Crossroads Hospice, 300 Lakeside Drive, #120, Horsham, Pa. 19044-2356.


Joseph Quirk Jr., WWII escapee

Joseph F. Quirk Jr., 90, of Prospect Park, an Army Air Force tail gunner shot down over Nazi-occupied France during World War II whose escape to England via the French Resistance was chronicled in a film, died Nov. 21 of age-related illness at home.

Mr. Quirk, a lifelong Collingdale resident, worked as a production supervisor for the Boeing Co. for 38 years, his family said, and was active on the Collingdale Borough Council.

He was best known, though, for two hair-raising weeks he spent in 1943 fleeing the Nazis. His tale was so compelling that British filmmaker William Ennals wove it into his 2006 film Rose, a documentary about a French secret agent.

Mr. Quirk told Ennals that he and 13 others were aboard a 446th Bomb Group B-24 on Nov. 18, bound from Africa to England, when German forces intercepted the plane's radio traffic.

The Germans transmitted false direction, guiding the bomber to occupied French airspace, where it was shot down over the French port of Brest. As the aircraft burst into flames, Mr. Quirk parachuted out.

"At dusk, several men came out looking for me," he recalled in a 2006 interview with the Delaware County Daily Times. "They found me in the weeds. I didn't know if I was caught."

Mr. Quirk was picked up by the French Resistance and during the next two weeks, he was moved from one safe house to the next. At one point, he was told to "follow the woman in the big hat" down a busy street.

The woman turned out to be "Agent Rose," the famous French underground leader Andrče Peel. By day she ran a beauty parlor, selling perfume to German soldiers; by night she helped shuttle airmen stranded in France onto Allied ships.

On Dec. 1, 1943, a cold, moonless night, Mr. Quirk's protectors told him to be ready. He and 31 others swam to an island where they found rowboats that would take them to a British gunboat. The timing had to be perfect.

"The boat I had had a hole in it," Mr. Quirk said in the newspaper interview. As the gunboat neared, the rowboat capsized, hurling Mr. Quirk into the sea. He grabbed for a rope thrown by a British sailor, and was flipped onto the gunboat's deck. In all, 32 men were rescued that night.

Mr. Quirk said in 2006 he was still felt grateful to the sailors who saved his life. "These English sailors had a lot of courage to come that close into German waters," he said.

Information smuggled out with his escape was instrumental in helping the Allies plan D-Day, his daughter Linda Kelly said.

"The French Underground would walk up and down the beach at Normandy and pretend to be looking for something, but they were taking pictures and measurements, and they smuggled that information out with my dad and the others," Kelly said.

His experiences are documented in French and British history books, as well as by the Pennsylvania Veterans History Project, and the U.S. Armed Forces Escape and Evasion Society.

Mr. Quirk was born in Philadelphia, but lived in Collingdale and graduated from Collingdale High School in 1939. He was an outstanding scholar and athlete, winning state medals for track and field.

He served on Collingdale Borough Council for many years. He also served on the Collingdale and Southeast Delco school boards. He helped establish Delaware County Community College.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife of 67 years, Sarah White Quirk, whom he met in high school; a son, George; another daughter, Eileen Young; 10 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 27, at the Griffith Funeral Chapel, 520 Chester Pike, Norwood. Visitation is from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at the chapel.

Burial with military honors will be in Arlington Cemetery, Drexel Hill. Memorial contributions may be made to the Collingdale High School Alumni Association Scholarship Fund, Box 1426, Collingdale, Pa. 19023.

Contact staff writer Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or

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