By Jonathan Reed
Video supplied by BBC News©
It was a chance meeting. A BBC presenter and an elderly man, who just happened to cross paths. Dan Walker, from BBC Breakfast was the presenter; Tony Foulds was the man. And with a simple question, “are you ok?”, a story of heroism, bravery and diligent dedication captured the hearts of the United Kingdom and beyond.
At the age of eight in February 1944, Tony along with his schoolmates were fighting a rival school in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield. It was here where he witnessed the American B-17 Flying Fortress, Mi Amigo, crash and explode in woodland nearby.
The plane had been returning from an intended bombing raid over Europe but was badly damaged in conflict with the Luftwaffe. With only one working engine, the pilot, Lieutenant John Kriegshauser had planned to land on a field in Endcliffe Park. But having spotted the children, he instead decided to circle. Trying a second time, he waved to warn them, but unaware of what was happening, the children waved back. A third time would prove fatal.
The B-17, narrowly missing the slate roofs of the surrounding neighbourhood, crashed into woodland, caught fire and exploded killing all ten men onboard.
Nine-years-later Tony began to take a keen interest in the crash, visiting the site and laying flowers every week. Through time, and with the addition of an official memorial, weeks became days.
Cleaning the plaque, weeding the pavement, cutting the surrounding trees; for six-days-a-week, Tony Foulds has dedicated seventy-five-years to honouring the ten men he never met. Asked why he does it, he said: “Because they saved my life. I wouldn’t have been here if it hadn’t been for them. They’re part of my family. They are my family.”
It is hard to not be moved by this incredible act of selfless devotion. And Tony’s story is a powerful reminder that, up and down this country, there are extraordinary people who silently and humbly prove that kindness and compassion still exist. It isn’t for fame, PR, money or awards. In Tony’s case, it is to remember those American men he credits with saving his life.
It also reminds us the importance to listen. Tony’s dedication would not be receiving the attention it so rightly deserves if it wasn’t for Dan Walker. And the sacrifice of the ten American soldiers would still be unknown to the masses.
With such a poignant story as this, Dan decided to share it with the World through Twitter. The post went instantly viral across social media, resulting in Dan organising a campaign, #gettonyaflypast. The hashtag would go around the Globe, resulting in Tony Foulds seeing those ten men he had stoically honoured for seventy-five-years bestowed the flypast they so heroically deserved.
Thousands attended to watch the event with Tony, whose face lit up with each passing aircraft. As tears filled the eyes of those watching, both in-person and on televisions, afterwards Tony didn’t wish to be interviewed. Instead he walked back to the memorial to pay his respects.
Watching this tale unfold has been more that just a positive story in the Press. The flypast was more than just honouring ten remarkable men who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is a reminder that in a bitterly divided country, we all have the capacity to do good, even if it is something as simple as cleaning a Memorial. Tony sets an example to us all; that a quiet, thoughtful act away from the media glare can be just a powerful, if not more so, than the grand gestures we have become so accustomed to.
A new campaign to honour Tony on the Queen’s Birthday honours list has been set up, with Dan Walker leading the charge. When Celebrities, Politicians and others are awarded for far less, it would be a travesty to see this remarkable man from Sheffield be snubbed.
It started with a chance meeting between two men from two different generations. And seventy-five-years later the story of these eleven exceptional men, ten American soldiers and one dedicated Tony Foulds, can continue to capture the hearts and minds for generations to come.
In the closing moments of the flypast, four American Jets lined in formation to perform the ‘Missing Man’. As they approached Endcliffe Park, one soared ahead leaving an empty place. It was designed to commemorate the B-17 Flying Fortress, Mi Amigo which was lost on that fateful day. Fast-forward seventy-five-years, and today that empty space was filled, not by a Jet, but an elderly Yorkshireman from Sheffield, who by a chance meeting was finally able to tell the story of those ten men who became his family.