marker placed by local resident, Ken Lewis
Heidi's son surveys crash site
Walking close to the office earlier this summer, we came across this newly planted sign, honoring Robert Sarvis, apparently a member of both the RAF and USAAF. We had heard from our neighbor that a plane crashed in this area, and was bulldozed under the road. These pieces of information led to two questions. Who was Robert Sarvis and was he part of the plane crash?
photo courtesy of Derek Frisby
Back at the office, the internet search commenced. First, a PR piece from Middle Tennessee State University confirmed that Sarvis, an alumni of MTSU, piloted a plane that crashed here, and put a group of students at the crash site recently.
Sarvis was born on July 4th, 1917. He was actually Canadian, though he grew up in the States and married there. According to Tennessee historian Greg Tucker, Sarvis was a big guy, 6'1" tall and weighing over 200 pounds, who played left tackle for the college football team. He signed on as a volunteer for the RAF after Pearl Harbor, and then, in 1942, began wearing an American uniform, but remained with his British crew.
As often happens, conflicting accounts of his service are scattered across the internet. But, we were lucky to find the grandson of another crew member who survived the flight that night. Simon Weir is working on a book and documentary about Sarvis. He kindly gave us permission to post this photo of the crew, and helped us sift out the truth, which he says is well documented by the Air Crew Remembrance Society.
This copyrighted photo is used with permission.
Briefly, the crew was headed to a night bombing raid on Stuttgart, Germany, but was attacked by a night fighter, and had to abort the mission. The crippled plane, a British Lancaster, headed for the safety of the Normandy beachhead. But, en route, it was further damaged by friendly ack-ack fire. The rest of the story is best told by a letter one of the crew wrote to Sarvis' wife (copied here from the Air Crew Remembrance Society site):
" . . . We were over the interior of France when we were hit. The aircraft was very badly damaged, and immediately went into a dive. While Bob was trying to regain control of the plane, he gave the order to abandon the aircraft. The engineer, who was closest to the escape hatch, jumped just before Bob was able to pull the plane out of the dive, and hold it on an even keel. As soon as he was able to do this, Bob told the rest of us to remain in the aircraft, and we altered course for the Allied lines in Normandy, hoping to get as near to them as possible before bailing out. By skill and sheer strength, Bob was able to keep us up until we reached Allied territory. He said there was no chance of making a safe landing, and told us to prepare to jump. . . ." - Roy Gordon
Though Roy Gordon did not know it at the time, Sarvis did not get a chance to jump, and after making sure his comrades got out safely, Sarvis went down with the burning plane.
|flooded fields, plane crashed on right side|
As mentioned previously, we are aware that there was an American machine gun nest in our back garden, which looked out over this road where the plane crashed. At that time, the land on either side of the road was flooded by the Germans. To give you an idea what the area looks like when flooded, in contrast to the picture above, here it is last December (taken from the opposite direction).
Our next door neighbor, 10 years old at the time, remembers hearing the loud crash late at night, and going to the site the next day with a friend, where he witnessed the scattered wreckage.
There are some photos of an excavation done in 1989 on this blog.
We hope to have more photos of Sarvis' early years for future posts. We'd also like to see a memorial placed at the site of the crash to honor this hero.