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A story about my great-uncle, Bill Weybright, a glider pilot during WWII:

 

He was shot down over Germany, close to the French border. He “slipped wind” – he took the strings of a parachute (which was made of pure silk) and managed to float down into French territory. Soldiers are taught to either carry or bury your parachute, so the enemy won’t be apprised of your presence. He had landed in soft, farm land which had just been plowed. If he buried the parachute there, it would be turned up with the next plowing. He also realized that if he buried the silk parachute, his sisters would kill him. So, he gathered the parachute and made it as small as possible, and tucked it into his flight jacket.

A tractor approached him, pulling a wagonload of hay. The man starts talking to him, but Bill can’t speak French. The man grabs him, shoves into the hay, hiding him. He then takes Bill back to his place, gets hold of the Allies, who return him to the Allied Forces.

Unfortunately, it was just a story told to his young niece.  He never actually made it overseas.  Instead, he became a test pilot and teacher of young pilots.  As a test pilot, he had a few crashes where he, in fact, had to use his parachute. It was on one of these occasions that he sent the parachute to his niece, with the colorful story.

It was very painful for him that he wasn’t able to join in the action overseas.  He stuck with the story, as did his sister, his niece’s mother.  The truth came to light when I was putting together my family’s biography and noticed that all of the letters his sisters kept only had return addresses from the United States.  His sons confirmed my suspicions.

When piecing together life stories it’s not uncommon to discover inaccuracies, sometimes deliberate fabrications or merely faulty memories.

A good biographer is also a good detective.  It is important to love your work and to respect the individual of whose biography you are working and to understand the reasons behind the inaccuracies.

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