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Family of World War 2 soldier thrilled at plans for memorial

Young soldier and crew to be honoured where they died

The family of Flight Sgt. Hugh Coles MacMillan has never forgotten him. 

The young air gunner was killed along with six crew members in the Second World War when their  R.A.F. bomber of 90 Squadron crashed on the night of Sept. 5/6, 1943.

It was during a major night mission to bomb the cities of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen.

"You were honoured to know that your uncle died trying to make the world a better place for freedom. The reasons why they all went and joined the war," said Moraig Grounds, 69, one of MacMillan's nieces in Toronto. 

"He was only 26, God bless him, when he passed. My mom used to say he's forever 26.  He's forever young."

MacMillan's relatives are touched to learn others want to remember him with a memorial at the crash site.

Dutch researcher Erik Wieman put out a call for help last November in a bid to find MacMillan's family members to let them know about his plans.

Wieman is co-founder of a crash site research team that has discovered over 20 wrecks in Germany, including the site of MacMillan's plane. 

He managed to contact families of the six other crew members but not MacMillan's - the only Canadian on board that tragic night  - who hailed from Nobel, near Parry Sound.

Now his appeal for help has paid off. 

"The first contact has been made. It is really great that the last family has been found before the memorial will be unveiled. This is really amazing," said an ecstatic Wieman, who is in Germany.

Wieman's search ended thanks to the dogged efforts of a citizen cyber sleuth in Toronto.

Hazel Smith, originally from Parry Sound, has had success with other genealogy cases.

"I thought it was kind of interesting. And I'm a big snoop," she said.  

"The first thing that caught my eye was that Hugh Coles MacMillan at some time lived on a street in Nobel called Glen Rock and I had some family friends who lived there for ages."

She eventually found an obituary for a wife of one of MacMillan's brothers which included names of her children and grandchildren.

The history detective is thrilled to locate the final family to complete the puzzle for Wieman. 

It's just the latest in a series of successful cases Smith has taken on.

She bought some French World War 1 photos at an auction and was able to trace most of the soldiers and located the farm house tavern in the small town in Picardy where they stand. 

She completed a branch of a family tree for a client that went from Scotland to Australia to Korea that resulted in her client taking a trip to Korea to see the missionary church her ancestor founded.

And she's traced the history of her 125-year-old home and found and met one of the thirteen children that used to live there in the 1930's. 

"I just like doing that kind of stuff," Smith said.

MacMillan's niece Moraig is thankful for Smith's help and excited about what Wieman is doing to honour war heroes like her uncle.   

"We think it's nice that they're doing that for the people that served during the war and passed away there," said Grounds.

Her uncle came from a family of four boys and MacMillan's surviving brothers lived into their seventies and eighties. 

"His dad was a supervisor in the mines and moved around a lot," she recalled. "We were always told that he died near the end of the war. I had always understood he got run over by a tank but that's what I was told but apparently it was in a plane crash."

Another uncle, Charlie, was also in the war but Grounds' dad was not enlisted because he had rheumatic fever, she said. 

"My uncle is buried in Germany. My mother and father went to see his grave one time. They said where he was buried was well-tended and looked after," Grounds said.

MacMillan's relatives want to be updated about the ceremony because they might attend. 

Wieman met with the local mayor last week to start finalizing details. 

"In March or April we will erect the memorial and plant the stone. After that a fixed date in June, July or September - which would be nearest to the crash date Sept. 5/6, 1943 - will be set for the unveiling," said Wieman.

"The German Army and German Air Force, the Royal Air Force, two priests, the Mayors of Limburgerhof and Speyer, a bagpiper, a "Last Post" trumpet player and descendants from England already said they will all attend the service."

"Maybe also descendants from New Zealand and Canada would be great too," he said.

Last week, Weiman sent a plaque and plane parts to the families of two of MacMillan's crew mates who died in action with him.

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Sue Sgambati

About the Author: Sue Sgambati

Sue has had a 30-year career in journalism working for print, radio and TV. She is a proud member of the Barrie community.
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