As Canada marks 78order anniversary of D-Daya pivotal point in the Second World War, Harvey Engelberg of Montreal thought a lot about sacrifice and how without a series of selfless actions in the face of danger, he would never have was born now.
“How do I repay the person who gave a family life?” he wondered.
Canadian war hero’s sacrifice unites three families
His father Cobby Engelberg was a young boxing champion when he joined Royal Canadian Air Force at the age of 24.
Cobby was a radio operator during Operation Tonga, aboard one of dozens of Royal Air Force planes that left the UK before midnight on D-Day.
Their mission was to drop paratroopers behind enemy lines in German-occupied France to soften the enemy’s defenses against a full-scale invasion.
“Not only did they pass through enemy territory before their troops were there, but they also had the furthest mission from base,” said Harvey Engelberg.
His father’s plane, a Dakota, was captained by 26-year-old flight officer Harvey Edgar Jones.
Jones had toured Niagara Falls and studied business at the University of Toronto before the war.
Jones’ niece, Helen Peterson, now in her 80s, remembers him very well.
“The biggest thing I was always dismissed was the fact that he was too tall to get through the doorways,” she recalls.
As their plane, carrying 26 people on board, darted across the French coast in darkness and unknown danger, German fireworks abruptly ripped through the night sky.
The Dakota was hit and immediately caught fire.
Pilot Jones ordered everyone to abandon the plane, and most did. However, Jones refused his parachute.
359 Canadians died 78 years ago on D-Day
According to multiple accounts, Jones saw the injured and unconscious Cobby Engelberg behind him, and decided to attempt a landing.
“I can only imagine, he must have looked down and seen him lying there and making a decision. What do I do? Do I jump up and say goodbye to my friend or do I have to? ” Harvey Engelberg told Global News.
The Dakota plunged into the darkness below, crashing into a farm in the small town of Basseneville, France.
Harvey Edgar Jones died on impact.
Cobby Engelberg somehow survived despite severe injuries, including a cracked skull.
“From what I understand, he was under the wing still on fire when they pulled him out of there. Harvey said.
Cobby’s luck doesn’t stop there.
The owners of the farm brought Engelberg into their home, provided him with medicine and treated his wounds. They would take on others, only later sharing the details of their altruism in a letter to Cobby.
“The two heroes in this story are the pilot and the farmers who saved them,” Harvey said.
Alice Duhamel and her son Arthur tend to the farm and the wounded men. They cared for Engelberg and the others until an Allied unit approached them, transporting the wounded to the hospital.
Their heroism saved lives, and they will pay dearly for it.
Duhamel wrote in a letter to Cobby that she and her son had been imprisoned by the Nazis for helping the Allies.
“My son was killed by the SS,” she wrote. “After six weeks, we successfully escaped.”
“Did you read it, and how do you not crash?” “That’s crazy,” Engelberg said as he showed the letter to Global News.
D-Day Explained: How Canadians Shaped the Greatest Invasion in Military History
The Duhamels buried Harvey Edgar Jones on their ranch, decorating the grave with flowers and a crucifix that read “Dead for France, long for England”.
Years later, Cobby Engelberg named his son Harvey for the pilot who saved his life.
“Listen, I got a name from someone who saved my dad. If he saved my dad, he would save me and my children and my grandchildren. We alone are 25 ancestors of Cobby Engelberg,” said Harvey through tears.
Engelberg has been on a lifelong quest to find the pilot’s descendants and farmers to pay their respects.
Despite his insatiable desire to show gratitude to the Jones and Duhamel family, he has never had any luck finding them.
Imagine Harvey Engelberg’s surprise when a handwritten letter arrives at his home in Montreal this March from Basseneville, France.
“She said ‘I have your dad’s plane pieces. Do you like them? ‘ I immediately said, ‘yes, I came to see you,'” he recounts.
Thérèse Férey and her husband, who now live on that ranch, found pieces of Dakota KG356 while working on the land some 78 years after that fateful night.
The discovery inspired her to begin her own mission to bring awareness to the heroes who bravely risked their lives to save her country.
“We have never, never, never heard anyone talk about this plane in the village. I find this disgusting,” Férey told Global News by phone from Basseneveille.
Explore the ruins of D-Day along Juno . Beach
She talks about growing up during the German occupation, living in fear.
“I’m surprised we never talked about Cobby or Captain Jones. I don’t understand. If people come to rescue you and have an accident, you can’t be indifferent. You can’t act like nothing happened.”
In April, Engelberg visited the verdant grasslands where the plane crashed. He passed when his family handed him pieces of history.
“It was very emotional. You know, it’s amazing how these 6,000-mile-away strangers care as much as I do,” he said. “That helps you restore faith in humanity when you realize it’s not bad news.”
He donated the twisted metal pieces to the Juno Beach Center, Canada’s war museum in Normandy, where they will soon be on display.
“I really couldn’t find a better story for us to tell in our museum,” said Alex Fitzgerald-Black, executive director of the Juno Beach Center.
Although Harvey Engelberg felt at peace, his work wasn’t done – he couldn’t thank Harvey Edgar Jones’ family.
“I almost hit a wall,” he told Global News. But things don’t end there.
In recent weeks, Global News has tracked down members of the Jones family and organized a sort of online reunion.
Helen Peterson is the niece of Harvey Jones, the daughter of his sister, Isobel Wall. She knows him as “Uncle Harv.”
In Our Father’s Footsteps: Stories of World War 2 Veterans’ “What If” Moments
“He was my only uncle, my favorite uncle,” she said from Milwaukee, Wisconsin during an online video call with Engelberg.
Also on the call were Colleen McGovern, Peterson’s niece and Jones’ niece, who now lives in California.
“I just thought the whole story was beautiful and I loved it,” she said. “It’s an incredible story.”
They knew that Jones had crashed, but not the details, or that he had saved others on the difficult flight.
Peterson said discovering someone named in her uncle’s honor was a highlight in her life.
“I just get emotional and just think about how amazing that is,” she said.
After the war, Harvey Edgar Jones was buried at the Ranville War Cemetery in Normandy, along with thousands of others who never returned home.
He was mentioned in Dispatches for his heroism, but was never awarded a higher military title like Victoria Cross.
Alex Fitzgerald-Black considers that to be the reason Jones’ story is relatively little known.
“Perhaps the thing that annoys me the most is that almost no one knows his story,” he told Global News.
Three families on two continents are forever connected by an act of bravery still felt for generations, hopefully the story of this Canadian hero will be seen a second time.
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.