Tessa's World War II History Website

An American B-17 Flying Fortress - listen to the sound

An airman bailing out

How I Met F/S Billie Boxton

by Martha Janssen-Leyder

(transcribed in her original words)

I was lying in my garden on a deck chair on this lovely summer day. The sky was blue, in the trees near by, little birds were giving me their daily concert. A slight breeze playing in the leaves made an accompaniment to their songs and at the same time brought me the fragrant perfume of all the flowers surrounding me. All this peace and beauty invaded my heart and made me forget just for a little while the war.

Quite suddenly the stillness was broken by the sound of the motors of hundreds of planes on their way to bombard Germany. Thrilled, I was watching their perfect formation, sending them all my best wishes for a safe return..... but tragedy was hanging in the air..... several shots were heard and out of a Fortress that had been hit parachutists could be seen coming down. One of them baled out fifty yards away from the place where I was gazing. Forgetting all caution, I rushed to him, he had come down right on an apple tree. The peasant woman to whom it belonged was already on the spot. When I arrived she was holding her head in her two hands and shaking it to and fro, was mumbling something about her apples. Now who cared about her little green apples, no one ever wanted to buy them anyhow. The problem was how I was to help this American officer. Since by this time a lot of people had gathered and amongst them quite a few quizzlings¹.

I took him by the arm, immediately two quizzlings¹ took him by the other arm. Helping him to escape seemed pretty hopeless. Yet, I couldn't give up without trying. I knew that in Liege in a crowd by clever pushing and doing a parachutist had been helped to escape the week before this, but then of course, darkness had been a good accomplice. Racking my brain for a plan I thought of this. I must try and bring him to my house. Once there hide him in the empty well, till night time, not before having asked him of course to knock me down with several blows just to make the Germans believe how unfairly I had been treated by the man I was holding onto to hand him over to them. So I firmly said: "I am going to take this man to my house and will ring the Germans to come and pick him up at my place", "Oh! no" answered one of the quizzlings¹, "I'll take him to my home which is nearer by". I insisted again, "But you have no telephone, and the way you speak is just as if you didn't trust me". "Don't argue anymore", said another quizzling¹, "besides, here we are" and they showed the pilot the way into their house. I followed, knowing there was little left for me to do, but I had heard of quizzlings¹ beating parachutists, surely those won't dare do it in front of me, so I decided to remain near him. Turning towards me, a traitor ordered "Go away". "But, why should I", I replied. "I want to stay here until the Germans come to get him". Taking his revolver out and pointing it to my chest he said: "Go away or I'll shoot"... Staring him straight in the eyes and holding his gaze, I said "Shoot". A few seconds did this suspense last and then the coward, the shrinking coward withdrew his revolver and left me in peace. Seeing this, the American walked up to me, shook hands and said, "God bless you my dear"! Threats and fear of concentration camps had not weakened me, but his clasp and few words of blessings sent me on the verge of tears. A smile was all I was able to manage for I knew my voice would not be steady enough to speak and not even for the love of our lost Liberty would I allow myself to cry in front of those despised S.S. and traitors. The Germans came and I walked home feeling very unhappy indeed.

Afterwards I heard, he had been brought to the camp where Russian prisoners, slaving in the coal mine, were interned. The comrade who brought me the news added: "Since the Chief sends you his congratulations, you could look more cheerful. Of course, I know how you feel, but don't worry, maybe tomorrow you will be absolutely relieved and happy. Who knows what might happen?" Early the next day, to bring me the promised relief and happiness, the Gestapo came to search my house. While one of them staying near by ordered me not to move, five others from garret to cellar turned everything upside down. Apparently they did not find what they were looking for, for they departed in the same way they had come. Their boots clicking in the horrible way that used to tear my nerves into pieces. I was left wondering and strangely enough relieved. The next day, I was happy to hear that the evening before the Gestapo had come to my house, the Chief and a comrade, dressed up as Germans, had come with a lorry to the camp. To the Germans on guard they had produced the paper giving them the order to take the American away. No suspicion even dawned in Jerry's heavy skull.

When Billie Boxton entered the lorry, he recognised amongst other parachutists, some of his comrades. They were dressed up also as German soldiers. They were all taken away, with apparently no trouble at all, and I believe and hope they returned safely to England.

A few weeks after this bold exploit the Chief and some of us were trapped by the Gestapo and sent to Buchenwald. Like many other heroes they have given their lives for Liberty and Justice.

The S.S. who lifted his revolver on me is now in prison awaiting his trial. His uniform, and his arrogance, have left him. Confronted with me, just as the time before, he was unable to stand my gaze and this made me say: "Yes, you always have been a coward, haven't you?"

A photo of Marthe

Martha Janssen.
44, Dorpstraat.²
quisling - a person who betrays his own country by helping an occupying enemy force [from Vidkun Quisling, 1887-1945, a pro-Nazi Norwegian leader].

click for photo The house can still be seen in Eisden but, sometime in the last 50 years, 'Dorpstraat' was renamed 'Langstraat' and the house numbers were changed.   Walk through the village towards the bridge over the canal, and you will pass by the house on the right. (Click on the house icon for a photograph)

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Can You Help?

Have you have heard of 'William (Billie/Willy) Boxton' (not a common surname in the USA)? The information recorded in my aunt's 'Questionnaire for Helpers' (her Award File) states under Section 10 'Casualty Information': "Willy Boxton, bailed out on the 19th August 1943, was arrested by the Germans, and liberated afterwards". Did she spell his name correctly? Could it be Boughton, Buxton or a similar sound-alike? Do you have any details regarding B-17 crashes during August 1943 in the area of Maasmechelen, Belgium, or over the border into Holland? Although Billie bailed out over Eisden, it is quite possible that his aeroplane continued flying for several minutes before coming down.

Did my Aunt remember the correct date when she was interviewed by Lieutenant J.P. Balfe on 6th June 1945? There was a small mission on the 19th August 1943 (nine crews) to bombe Gilze Rijen in Holland. However, Operation 'Double Strike', to bomb targets in Schweinfurt and Regensburg in Germany, took place just two days earlier on 17th August 1943. Two hundred and twenty-nine B-17s took part (my aunt describes 'hundreds of planes') and a total of thirty-six bombers were lost.

Did Billie and his crew ever make it back to England where the 'Mighty Eighth' was based? Could he have belonged to the 381st Bomb Group? Nine months, including August 1943, are missing from their archives. Was he an American Pilot or could he have been a Canadian attached to the 8th Army Airforce? His rank of F/S is puzzling - is it short for 'First Sergeant' or for 'Flying Sergeant'? If the latter, this could imply Royal Canadian Air Force rather than the United States Army Airforce.

Please get in touch with me if you have any comments on the above.
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Additional Information

The following information about the rescue of a pilot from the "Russian Camp", passed on to me by Mr. Robert Dexters in October 2002, is very interesting. This event is mentioned in the notes of his uncle, Dr. Albert Dexters.

"The brother and sister of Hubert Thiemann tell that Hubert was able to liberate, in 1943, a pilot from the Russian Camp. He brought the man to Jeanne Brouns in the village of Boorsheim. Thiemann was arrested by the Germans and shot on the 14th of April 1944."

Dr. Dexters, together with his brother Mr. G.H. Dexters, was a member of the Resistance in Eisden.

Marthe's True Stories
Takes you to the page about the infiltrator who betrayed the ResistanceThe Traitor
Read how my aunt was given the task of befriending the traitor Read how Marthe guided the Russian Escapers
The RussiansTakes you to the page about the four Russian Officers
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Copyright © 2001-2005 Tessa Steer (Leyder) / Van Hecke Family - All Rights Reserved Worldwide
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