In March 1943, Flying Officer Francis ‘Frank’ Falkenmire was on board a Lancaster bomber when it was shot down on its way back from a raid of Berlin.
It crashed in the eastern corner of the Netherlands – near the town of Lievelde – behind enemy lines.
Frank was the only one of seven to survivor the crash and was later captured by the Germans, and taken to a POW camp.
It’s been more than seven decades since he returned home to Tamworth, but Lievelde residents are still fascinated by his story. The Leader was contacted by Peter Rhebergen, a historian buff from the Netherlands, who wants to write an article for his local paper.
“I know people here are still interested in his fate and curious to know what kind of man he was,” he said.
As luck would have it, dozens of Falkenmire’s descends can be found throughout Tamworth. Frank’s son, Andrew, said all the Falkenmires in town were related
“They all come from the same family – dad was one of seven brothers and a sister,” Andrew said.
While Frank didn’t talk about his war days much, he did share one story with his kids – his involvement in the famous Great Escape.
After his crash, Frank was held captive at the Stalag Luft POW camp in Poland. He was one of the 200 soldiers involved in tunnelling out of the fortifications.
“But the tunnel fell apart and he had to retreat back to the camp,” Andrew said.
Another war story that came to light was the significance of Frank’s parachute – still a local legend in Lievelde. When he landed, farmers cut up his parachute to hide his landing from the Germans.
Being made from silk, it was a valuable material, which was split between six of the farmers.
One of the farmers’ wives turned the silk into a communion dress for a young Amsterdam refugee, who they were sheltering after she fled the bombings of the capital city.
When Frank returned to Tamworth he worked as a local court clerk for years until his retirement.
“Being involved in the courts, he use to help the down-and-outs who came in, and help them court with their proceedings,” Andrew said.
“I think you’ll find that anyone who knew him would say what a great bloke he was. He was loved everywhere.”
Frank met his wife, Joan, while working at the family’s sports store, Frank’s son Mark said.
“She was one of the first female physiotherapist in the state,” he said.
“Long story short, her father was a keen golfer and only like to use one particular type of ball that was only sold at his shop. He kept taking them off the shelf, so she would keep coming back and that’s how they met.”
They married and had four children. Frank live in Tamworth until he passed away in 1975, at age 59.
If you visit the town of Lievelde, you’ll find a small war museum, which has Frank’s uniform, donated by Frank’s sons, and the parachute dress, donated by the grateful women who wore it.