On July 29, 1944, a crew of seven men were flying a night raid in a Lancaster bomber when their plane was hit by enemy fire, crashing in German-occupied France.

While the other crew members were either killed on impact or returned to their homes after the war, Sherman Peabody from Sherbrooke, Que., and James Harrington (Harry) Doe from Victoria, B.C., were never heard from again.

After a two-year search, Peabody's distant cousin, Robert Peck, has discovered what happened to the two men, and how they died at the end of the war.

Now, Peck is trying to find any of Doe's living relatives, because he and a team of others with connections to the two young airmen are planning to go to France next month to dedicate a tombstone to them.

"We've been trying to connect with family of Mr. Doe. We'd like them to know their son, their cousin has not been forgotten, as we commemorate our own cousin, Sherman Peabody," Peck told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

A family mystery

Peck, a former diplomat living in Ottawa, said the truth of what happened to Peabody was "one of those family mysteries that we had put on a shelf for many, many years,"

A couple of years ago, Peck and his younger brother decided they would set out to discover what had happened.

Harry Doe

A photograph of James Harrington (Harry) Doe. Doe and another Canadian airman were never heard from again after their Lancaster bomber crashed in enemy-occupied France in 1944. (Robert Peck)

"We had visited his parents as young men. We had seen his photograph in the living room and we heard this story about this airman who had never returned home. I think there was a bit of denial in the family about what truly happened," he said.

Peck and his brother approached Quebec's Bishops University, where Peabody had been a student before joining the airforce and provided funding to the history department to have students research what had happened.

The mystery unravels

Students Sean Summerfield and Megan Whitworth combed through archives and visited France to conduct field research, Peck said.

peck and students

The Peck brothers with the students and professors from Bishop's University involved in the research project. From right to left: Robert Peck, his brother, students Megan Whitworth, Sean Summerfield, professors Jean Manore and Michael Childs. (Robert Peck)

Through this research project, Peck and those involved learned that it was likely Peabody and Doe survived the crash and were later caught by the Nazis.

"Tragically, we learned — based on all of the evidence that we could come up with — that they were taken to a concentration camp on the French-German border called Natzweiler-Struthof and were executed."
 
Peck visited that concentration camp with his brother last summer and said it was "a very moving experience."

"As we were walking through the camp, we wondered what it must have been like for these two young men who survived the crash, thought they had a chance of getting away and met their end in a terrible, terrible camp like that," he said.

Looking for relatives

Though he says the conclusion of the story is tragic, Peck wants to connect with Doe's family because he, his brother, the research students and others connected to the saga of the two airmen are travelling to France in November.

graves

The graves in a cemetery in Petitmont, France of the three airmen who were immediately killed when the Lancaster bomber received enemy fire. (Robert Peck)

There, at a site in a small village where the other three dead crew members are buried, they plan to dedicate a tombstone to Peabody and Doe.

Peck said they know that Doe's father lived on Monterey Avenue near Oak Bay in Victoria.

"We have to believe that perhaps on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia perhaps, there is a distant relative who might like to know the denouement of this story and might also like to know that we will be remembering Harry Doe on the fifth of November in a small cemetery in France."

Anyone with information can reach out to Peck on the Facebook page for 622 Squadron.