Sgt Charles De Laveleye

Sgt De Laveleye

At the Spire unveiling in 2015 I was walking round amongst the veterans towards the end of the day getting some photos. Right at the western edge of the walls the sunlight was gorgeous and I was waiting for a little old very Welsh chap, his little old very Welsh wife and her equally little old very Welsh sister to clear from a wall I wanted to photograph a couple of names on. They were stood there a while having quite an animated discussion, and got the the point of him saying “We can’t find the name, we’ll just go for a cup of tea”. He looked quite disappointed by this, so I stepped across and asked if I might help them, and which name he was looking for. He handed me a bit of paper, so I asked them to wait a minute as it should only be a couple of panels across from where they were. I found it, and led them over to the panel with the name on it.

He saw the name, and ran his fingers across it, and said “De Laveleye, CA – that’s him” I asked him if it was one of his mates and he said “Not really, I didn’t know him. But that should be me there…”

He told me that his crew (the Neilson crew) was posted onto 550Sqn late in February 1945, but just before their first op on March 2nd he was diagnosed with appendicitis and sent off to hospital to have it removed. Sgt De Laveleye volunteered to fly the crew’s first & 3rd ops in his place. They were shot down over Dessau (their 3rd op, on March 7th 1945 in Lancaster ME503) with only Sgt RF Stevens (the rear gunner) & Sgt Finnigan (the flight engineer) surviving as they were blown clear when the aircraft exploded in mid-air at around 3000 feet above Sollnitz. Sgt De Laveleye’s constituted crew (the Jones crew) were also lost that night on the same op in Lancaster PA995.

This was Sgt De Laveleye’s 27th op. He was an experienced air gunner, switching between mid-upper and rear turrets as needed. He was originally posted to 576Sqn in October 1944 on the Rhude crew, but they were transferred to 550Sqn when 576Sqn moved from Elsham Wolds to Fiskerton in November 1944. He continued to fly with the Rhude crew until December 17th, then did 3 sorties with other crews, including the Jones crew, who he joined in February 1945 and flew 10 ops with.

Sgt Charles De Laveleye’s father was Victor, pre-war leader of the Belgian Liberal party, and Minister of Justice for Belgium in 1937. He was also an Olympian, having represented his country at tennis in the 1920 & 1924 summer Olympics. After the fall of Belgium, Victor took his family to France, and then on to Britain after France fell. Victor became the voice of BBC Radio Belgique and the Belgian Government in Exile from 1940 . In one of his broadcasts to the people of occupied Belgium, on 7th January 1941, he urged Belgians to chalk a V on buildings, walls, vehicles, anywhere, to unnerve the Germans and demonstrate resistance & resilience (V for Victoire/Vrijheid – for both the French- & Dutch-speaking regions of Belgium) and to greet each other with a V hand signal. It was a resounding success and spread across occupied France & NL too. 6 months later, in July 1941 Churchill adopted it.

De Laveleye - A black and white photo of a man in a dark suit and tie making the V for Victory sign
Victor De Laveleye Image courtesy of the Brussles Times

Sgt De Laveleye’s entry on the Losses Database can be seen here

The chap I met at the walls was Sgt Gwilym Evans, who passed away a couple of years ago.

Victor was made minister for public education in Belgium in the first government after Belgium was liberated in September 44, but he was already seriously ill by this stage and stood down a week before Charles was killed. Victor died on 16th December 1945. Post-war, a small park in the Saint Gilles district of Brussels was named in honour of Victor, who had started his political career there as a councillor in the 1920s.

The 550 Sqn Association’s site has the accounts of the two survivors of the incident and aftermath. They were back with 550Sqn on April 7th, a month to the day after being shot down – their PoW camp was liberated by American troops on March 28th. The site also has the investigation report too, which gives the crash site as in a wood about 1 mile east of Sollnitz.  See the information here

Submitted by Graham Platt at Bomber County Aviation Resource

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