Braintree Man Describes Prisoners’ 500 Mile March

My father, Staff Sergeant Raymond E. Bence, Jr. gave this interview to the Quincy Patriot Ledger immediately after his return home to Braintree, Massachusetts on June 15, 1945. He enlisted after graduating from Braintree High School in 1943. He turned 18 on August 25, 1943.

He was nose-gunner on Lt. Fromm’s crew, 703rd Squadron, 445th BG, for the Kassel mission.

His nickname in the squadron was “The Kid”. He flew 14 missions with the 445th before his 19th birthday. The mission to Kassel was his 19th mission.

In the interview he identifies Lt. Fromm’s B-24 by the name “Special Delivery”.

Interview with Raymond E. Bence, Jr., published in the Quincy Patriot Ledger, June 20, 1945, page 1 (continued on page 14)

 

Braintree Man Describes Prisoners’ 500 Mile March

BRAINTREE, June 20 – A forced march nearly 500 miles over the roads of Europe as Germans attempted to keep hundreds of American and British prisoners out of reach of advancing Allied troops was today described by S. Sgt. Raymond E. Bence, Jr., 19, of 24 Atherton street, East Braintree, who is home on leave.

Carried to Hospital

With his legs so numb that they had no feeling and running a temperature of 105, Sergeant Bence, nose gunner on a B-24, finally collapsed near the end of his long trek and was carried to a hospital where he was liberated after being a prisoner for seven months.

The Braintree airman was a member of the crew of the bomber “Special Delivery,” based in England. His adventure started during his 19th mission to a tank factory in Germany.

“Near the target,” he said, “200 fighters attacked our formation of 36 planes. During the fight we lost 32 planes. Our plane was one of the first to go down.

“Two of our motors were on fire, the hydraulic system and the interphone systems were knocked out. As a result of the damage I didn’t hear the warning bell to bail out. The first I knew that the crew was starting to leave the crippled plane was when First Lt. Charles McCann beckoned to me to follow him.

“At the time we were at 17,000 to 18,000 when we bailed out of the nose-wheel hatch. My ‘chute opened all right and I floated down through the air, landing in a tree near a little town south of Kassel.

“A group of men, women and a couple of slave laborers approached me as I hung in the tree. One of them had a pitch-fork. Believe me, I didn’t know what they were going to do.

“But when I got to the ground, one of them threw his arms around me. He said he had relatives over in this country and started to ask me all sorts of questions. For a time I thought they were going to help me get away, but the mayor of the town came up and I was marched into town.

        Eight Landed Safely

“Later, I heard that of the nine men in the plane, eight landed safely.

“As I went through the town, the children started to yell ‘Chicago Gangster’ and ‘Terror-fligger’ AT ME. Many of them wore the Hitler youth uniform. But, some of the older men kept them away from me.

“After being questioned and sent to a transient camp, I was finally placed in Stalag Luft 4D in Pomerania, where I stayed from Oct. 7 to Feb. 6. We had a pretty good set-up there. But, as the Russians started to get closer they evacuated between four and five thousand of us.”

It was from her on that Sergeant Bence underwent many hardships as he and the others were forced to make the march of 700 kilometers, during which they slept in barns, fields and ate when and whatever they could. Food, he said, was exceptionally scarce.

For periods of three and four days, all they had to eat were a few potatoes. Along the road he swapped a cigarette case for a half-loaf of soggy black bread. Other members of the party swapped watches and other articles for food.

Finally the weary group reached Stalag 11A near Hanover. They were there only 12 days when news arrived that the Americans were only 30 kilometers away. Overhead they could see planes of the RAF flying. Once they saw a German plane shot down and let out a mighty cheer.

On April 12 the prisoners were again forced to march away from their liberators and were taken to Annaburg, which was formerly a repatriation center.

Along the route they could hear and see P-47’s and P-38’s flying overhead, strafing enemy trains. In the distance they could hear the roar of guns and the men, Sgt. Bence said, then knew that the hour of their liberation was hear.

“The day before we were scheduled to reach Annaburg” Sergeant Bence said, “my legs gave way. I managed to get up and struggle along to a small town where I waited about three hours and was picked up by a wagon.

“We had just got out of town when P-47’s came over and strafed and dive-bombed railroads and bridges. The place we were staying at 15 minutes before was destroyed, we heard.

“As the planes came near us, we made for ditches until they had passed by. Finally we reached a town. I was so weak that they had to carry me into a hospital. A British doctor, who had been captured, examined me and told me I had pneumonia. I was running a temperature of 105.

“News arrived that the Allied troops were near and the Nazi guards took off and left us on our own hook.

“The Russians arrived at the place on April 24. Three days later some American officers flew in. They told us the Americans and Russians hadn’t joined up, but that it wouldn’t be long.

“Then came the big day. I was in bed when I heard the roar of trucks and someone rushed in yelling, ‘The Americans are here.’ Hey took us in trucks and ambulances to a clearing station. It was here that I got my first taste of American food. It sure tasted good.

“I had been on the road for two-and-a-half months and had hiked more than 400 miles. During the march. During the march I lost 55 pounds.”

Sergeant Bence was taken to an evacuation hospital and then was flown to Camp Lucky Strike where he was under treatment for two weeks. He was then send home aboard a Navy transport, arriving in New York a week ago.

“You just can’t realize,” he said, “what it means to see American shore-lines again and to finally put your feet back on American soil.”

Taken to Fort Devens, he was given a 60-day leave and arrived at home Friday night.

Sergeant Bence is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Bence of the home address. A graduate of Jonas Perkins school and Braintree high school, class of 1943, where he was a member of the Glee club and the Rifle club. Sergeant Bence joined the air forces, Sept. 18, 1843 when he was 17. He received his gunners’ wings at Westover Field, Mass., and was sent overseas last June.

The Weymouth gunner has been awarded the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf cluster and the ETO ribbon with a battle star.

He will report back to Atlantic City for re-assignment at the end of his 60-day leave.

 

Braintree Man Describes Prisoners’ 500 Mile March.” Quincy Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Massachusetts, 20 June 1945. Pages 1, 14. Print.

 

 

Word of the Day – Uxornecronym

“In his slim and excellent volume, The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist, NGS Fellow Lloyd de Witt Bockstruck coins the term uxornecronym: “the name of the first daughter born unto a second wife honoring the name of the first wife, who had died.”[1] The word combines the Latin term uxor (wife), the Greek term necro (death), and the Greek term nym or onym (name or word).”

-Aaron Goodwin “Uxornecronyms: a little-known naming practice”, NGS Monthly, 28 Mar 2018,
   https://ngsmonthly.ngsgenealogy.org/uxornecronyms-a-little-known-naming-practice/

 

Depending on the source, Norman McKenzie’s first wife is listed as either Arabella and Annabella. After her death on 27 Mar 1881, Norman and his second wife Mary named their first daughter Arabella (b. 8 Mar 1882).

Grave of Annabella [Arabella] McKenzie, first wife of Norman McKenzie
Cemetery at Woods Island Presbyterian Church, PEI, Canada

 

1891 Canada census, PEI, Lot 60, Norman McKenzie

Arabella McKenzie, age 9, daughter of Norman McKenzie and his second wife Mary

Canada census, 1891; Census Place: Lot 60, Queens, Prince Edward Island; Roll: T-6384; Family No: 88, Head of Household: Norman McKenzie

A Baby Gift?

The other night while cleaning out a hallway desk I came across a box of items I inherited from my paternal grandfather, Raymond Everett Bence (1892-1973). I remember seeing the box on his dresser as a child and was allowed to look but not touch. It contained old watches, some Masonic items, and a Liberty Head $1 coin. I’ve looked at the items several time in the last 40+ years, but never thought much about them. This is the only coin among his belongings. (He collected stamps, not coins.)

  

Looking at it last night, something new came to mind. The date on the coin is 1853, the birth year of Raymond’s mother, Emma Rowena Macomber (1853-1909). Given its condition, I wonder if it was a baby gift for Emma. Raymond was the only child of her second marriage to Peter Gaskel Bence in 1892. I wonder if the coin was given to Raymond after her death in 1909.

At The End – Hannah (Pell) Bence (1789-1868)

Bence, Hannah – Bridgewater Alms House 1868

Age: 78
Birthplace: England
Died: 24 Aug 1868
From: F. River
Disease or Condition: Feeble and Insane
Admitted: 18 Jul 1868
Came in State, How and When: 1854, Via N. York[1]

[1] Plymouth County, Massachusetts, “State Almshouse Register, Vol. 2”, p. 110-111, entry 6990, Hannah Bence, admitted 18 July 1868; accession no. 312/II/62/4, call no. HS9.10/2545X, Massachusetts State Archives, Boston, Massachusetts.

Hiding in Plain Sight

The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844: With a Preface written in 1892 by Frederick Engels

How did I not known that this was written about Manchester and the working poor in 1844?

William Bence (1828-1900) was born in Stockport, Lancashire, England. He and his family lived in Heaton-Norris in the 1840s and early 1850s. William, two brothers, his wife, and a sister all worked in the cotton mills. They emigrated en masse to Fall River, Massachusetts in 1854.To understand their lives and why they emigrated, I’ve been looking for contemporary accounts of life working in the mills and in the Manchester / Stockport area.