Bishop's University students shed new light on 73-year family mystery

After 76 years since Harold Sherman Peabody left the Eastern Townships to join the military, his family members are starting to get some answers as to what may have happened to him.

Peabody, a science student at Bishop's University in the late 1930s, joined the ranks of the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941.

The pilot never returned home to Sherbrooke, Que., and until recently, his family never knew what happened to him.

"This was one of those mysteries in our family that we never really pursued,'' said Robert Peck, whose mother was Peabody's second cousin.  

"As young boys we used to visit the home of Sherman's parents, and it was like a shrine," said Peck. "His mother and father would say, 'Maybe he'll come home one day.'…And I think they kept that hope alive.''

Robert Peck and his brother, Jonathan Peck, enlisted the help of a group of students at Bishop's University, and funded the research to find out what actually happened to their late family member.

Peabody survived plane crash

Born in the U.S., Peabody moved to Sherbrooke with his family at the age of three, and enlisted and fought overseas as a Canadian citizen.

In the early morning of July 28, 1944, over Lorraine, France, the Lancaster Bomber that Peabody was flying with his six-member crew was shot down by a German night-fighter.  

Several of the crew members died, but Peabody's remains were never found.

''We kind of went from the hypothesis that maybe he'd hit his head, was in a hospital somewhere in Europe, didn't remember who he was,'' said Meagan Whitworth, one of the students involved in the project.

Whitworth said the group went through archival work and interviewed people in the small village of Saint-Sauveur in France. Some had eye-witness accounts of the plane crash.

"What we found was that Peabody was actually not in the plane when it crashed…According to the reports of what was found at the crash, the state of the plane…some open army rations were found east of the plane crash and these rations could not have been opened by other survivors as they had injuries which prevented them from walking long distances,'' Whitworth explained.

Captured by the Germans

Whitworth said the researchers found reports of allied airmen in that part of France in German army records.

"We think they were maybe picked up by the Germans and maybe brought to Struthof, which was a concentration camp in Azas, France…but it's very hard to have 100 per cent certainty of what happened,'' Whithworth said.

Family grateful for findings

Robert Peck said he and his brother Jonathan Peck were very moved to hear about the group's findings.

''We would have liked to have found his remains, where we could have ensured he was buried with military honours and so on,'' said Robert Peck.

The brothers say they plan to go to France to thank the villagers for their collaboration in the project, and specifically to thank one 94-year-old woman who's been tending the graves of the men of Peabody's crew who died or disappeared when their plane crashed.