Saturday, August 19, 2006


Frontier Editor said...

"I almost forgot HE - would there happen to be a Willy Coppens in your family tree in the last century or so? "

"HE's ancestor was a hairy-chested, he-man WW I fighter pilot who had the guts to pancake his Hanriot fighter on top of a German observation ballon, roll off and air-start his engine before escaping a whole lot of German ack-ack."

Here is my Willy.

Willy Coppens was indeed Belgium's leading WW1 Fighter Ace with 34'victories' and yes Willy specialised in shooting down German observation balloons!?
As Frontier Editor noted on one occasion he accidentally lodged his aircraft on top of a balloon!
Incredible as it sounds, Willy had the presence of mind to cut his engine and wait for the plane to roll off the GAS filled balloon before starting it up and flying off.

On Oct.14, 1918, Coppens shot down #34, another balloon, before a hail of anti-aircraft fire tore into his plane and shrapnel lodged into his leg.
Willy managed to pull his Harriot out of a spin and made a crash landing. He survived the wreck but had to have his leg amputated.
Willy Coppens was later knighted as a Chevalier by King Albert.

I can remember my grandfather, Joseph 'Jeff' Coppens, telling me stories about his heroic distant cousin Willy, as well as the horrors of
WORLD WAR ONE which my Grandfather unfortunately witnessed first hand and became the impetus for emigrating to Canada.
Actually I should have added this to the Flanders Fields/McCrae Medals post to complete my Belgian connection.

Since there are only a handful of Coppens over here in North America and it is a very unusual name, as a young lad I was thrilled hear about this stuff from my grandfather and see my last name in a real history book!
Luckily my Mother's German/Prussian side of the family had emigrated well before the expansion plans of the Kaiser and his Red Baron so we were allowed to boast about our famous Flying Ace.

I cannot to this day go past the word Kaiser (German; Caesar) without remembering a line from the film The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean starring Paul Newman. The line, recited by Ned Beatty, goes something like this...

"While all the boys was off fightin' the Kaiser the women got the vote and everything went to hell. All them things what came natural to a fella, drinkin', whorin' and gamblin' became illegal!"

Now I tend to reflect upon the First World War as a brutal senseless slaughterhouse that heralded the advent of modern warfare. The War to end all Wars failed to stop mankind's disturbing predilection for exterminating other humans and within a generation WW2 dragged us 'kicking and screaming' into the Age of the Atomic Bomb.

Any War Heroes in your closet?


  1. Fastastic story. I'm sorry/glad to say I have no war heroes to boast about. My ancestors, however, sure did chop down a lot of trees in the name of the war effort.
    You don't wan to fight, O.K. , here's an ax...go cut down some trees or something.

  2. Hmm, my grandfather faught for Canada in WWII. He was a sergent. He was posted in Belgium I believe.

    We won't find his name in the history books, but a hero none the less.

  3. I loved this story and these facts about your ancestors HE...

    Actually yeah, my greatgrandfather was Icelandic and fought in World War I... his ship was sinking and he waited until everyone attempted to leave, as the captain must be the last to leave... he died.

    There is a memorial in Copenhaguen up for those who died in World War I and his name is on it... Olaffur Sigurdsson.

  4. Thanks for sharing that wonderful story!
    A true hero!

  5. WE all agree your Willy was quite the guy. Note the past tense.

    You've accidentally lodged your own self on top of balloons too, as I recall.

    Must run in the family.

  6. Gosh...

    I think my ancestors moved from Quebec to the US just because they thought working in shoe shops was a better way of life than beaver trapping. Before they had time to realize this might have been a mistake, they'd had kids, rented apartments, learned the language, etc.

    At least this is the lore that has been handed down to me.

  7. I don't have a family tree. It's more like a twig. So if any ancestor of mine did anything heroic, it's news to me.

    Considering the genes I was handed, my lineage probably started somewhere around Rosewell, New Mexico.

  8. brian,
    LOL yes my goodladywife said that her father chopped a few trees down too.

    Well there is another Belgian connection..hmmm. Indeed most heroes go undetected in this world.

    miz bohemia,
    I am always amazed when I hear of how those stoic captains risk going into that cold unforgiving sea. What a price to pay for bearing such responsibility.

    It is so sad to hear about all of these men who had to endure fighting in a war.

    I wish that someday, somewhere down the line, we will never have to talk about war at all. Grandparents could live long wonderful lives doting on their grandchildren.

    Your astute observation referring to my predilection of lodging myself on top of balloons is correct.
    You can't beat German Engineering!

    Not that there is anything wrong with trapping beaver but I suspect that your family owes a debt of gratitude to St. Hubbins the patron saint of quality footwear.

    the michael,
    doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo...
    Let me are about three feet tall with huge black almond shaped eyes and a greyish complexion?

  9. I don't think there are any warriors in my family - at least none that I know of. My grandfathers were too young to be in WWI and too old to be in WWII. Sadly, I don't know all that much about family history beyond my grandparents.

  10. My family have been fighting in one war or another for hundreds of years. Some were Ojibwa in Canada, who fought and lost the war against the whites and got sent to White Earth Reservation. Others fought in WW2 on the side of the...oh wait, they were Jewish and got gassed. No fighting there, just dying. Some escaped to various places, and there are lots of us around now. My father, as well as many uncles, fought in Vietnam.
    I don't think my family is famous for much, except my paternal grandfather was the first person in history to use a gas-powered saw to cut down a tree in California.
    /eeek - it was a redwood, too. We're not too proud of that one.

    So to sum up what we've learned today:
    My family history is as varied as they come and is filled with as many races, colors, and creeds as one could imagine.
    No one did anything worthwhile.


  11. anna,
    Your grandfathers were lucky then to have escaped the Wars. I have always wondered how far back I could trace my genes..I know that I (and everyone else on the planet)can start with Mitochondrial Eve in Africa and I can go back to Europe for a couple of generattions. I would like to try one of those geneology sites but they could just make up stuff and I would never know the difference.
    Some trust issues there.

    Your family IS famous for producing you. You are lucky to have such a rich gene pool. The Ojibwa path would be fascinating to learn about.

    The details of your Jewish ancestors might be documented.
    The tragedy of the ethnic cleansing would be gut wrenching but incredibly worthwhile...
    many Jews, both underground and enlisted, fought fiercely against the Nazis.

    It is hard to believe how quickly people forget how easily a nation can get swept away in a tidal wave of hatred and bigotry. Every generation seems to get involved in another war. It is pathetic but there always seems to be someone or some group, somewhere, trying to eliminate their neighbours.


  12. Your family IS famous for producing you.

    H.E. - Awww...That's sweet of you to say.

    My family history is documented to nine generations back, I think now, and it's fascinating to read about, as I get tidbits from one of my aunties who is doing the research.

  13. WE stopped chasing our family line, when we started not liking what we saw.

    After a brief search, we traced our family history back about 100 and something years, finding our family were deported to Aus for "finding lost english cattle".

    We are sticking to the story, that was the kindess my line has always shown, taking catlle out of the cold of the paddock and into the warmth of our stew pot.

    AS we looked further back we found an obscure relative who enjoyed pouring hot lead on the english nobility, when his home was escavated they found a foot (30ish cm) of soild lead. Not to mentions helmuts, swords etc, incased in the lead.

    After that we stopped looking.

    Sub sole, sub umbra vience... Excuse my latin... In light and shade we grow..

    (spell check vience) sorry i am at work and family coat of arms is a long way away....

  14. wow u've got war-heroes connected to ya? cool :) Im glad it wasnt Hitler tho!

    My only hero is my dad...he was a senior Police Officer and one who did his duty without seeking anything in return. He was a very fair and kind man. He died at just 44 while at service. To me he's the HERO always.

    And I must mention 2 of my close uncles who also worked in the Police died brutal deaths in the Sri Lankan govt vs LTTE war.


  15. Are you suggesting my parents were illegal ALIENS? Now look, just because New Mexico is near the border is no reason to cast aspersions! I do get so wistful when I star gaze, tho..........

  16. saying hi... to your willy?

  17. Keshhi, that's so sad.

    HE, what a great story. I love shaking the old family tree to see what falls out. It's great when there are colorful ancestors with interesting antics to learn about.

  18. HE
    Nothing could make me happier if we never have to talk of war again!
    War really does suck!

    And, Keshi, so sad for you hun....
    about your dad and your uncles!
    To lose your dad at such a young age is so hard... only 44... sad!

  19. Thanks for this fantastic story, H.E...
    Many in my family fought the French during the Algerian war. 1954-1962 until we gained independence.
    My father is my hero having survived concentration camps at the edge of the Sahara and exile during most of that war.
    He's 85 on Friday!

  20. Heavy E, Interesting post. You all know the member of my family who is a war hero, to me anyway.

    Keshi, of course he will always be your hero. He must have been a wonderful man.

    My ancestors consist mostly of starving Canary Islanders who went to Cuba because at least there was plenty of free fruit there growing on trees! My grandfather on my mom's side was a lieutenant in the army but in Cuba mainly we just fought each other.

  21. aidan,
    I suppose that quite a few people down under are the descendants of transplanted British subjects who were the recipients of free room and board in sunny Australia.
    The hot lead guy must have been popular back in the day!

    A real HERO indeed. He sounds like a great person and you must be very proud. My Dad died when he was only 46. He was a gentle inquisitive man who I have missed every day since May 29th, 1980.
    He is my hero too.
    BIG HUGGZ keshiroo!

    Don't be silly. I love Mexicans and their country and they aren't Grey they are a beautiful shade of Chocolaty Taupe...which is what I least parts of me are... at this time of year anyway.

    Willy is winking back!

    Hi pamela,
    The trouble with shaking the family tree is that you usually get a lot of NUTS! I am not going to push my luck.

    You are preachin' to the choir sister! Make a wish.....

    Nice to hear from you.
    Wow I bet that He has some amazing stories and probably more than his share of memories that he doesn't want to remember. 85! Wish him a happy birthday.

    I certainly do know who your hero is and I hope that your handsome son comes home safe and sound...and soon!

    1. Hello! Im not sure if you will reply to this anytime soon, But i thought i would give it a go anyway!
      Im currently doing a university project on tracing my own family history and i found out that Willy Coppens is a cousin of my grandfather too , so reading this made me realise that we must be related too? My side of the family moved to the uk , my dad still has the Coppens name and there always been a family joke referring to 'the Coppens nose' , i would appreciate it so much if you could get back to me on any information you found out about our family , and also we could figure out how we might be related (if we are) . I have to present an archive to my university on willy Coppens , so any information would be fab!
      i will look forward to your reply! My email address is
      Thank you ,
      Jessi Steadman

  22. I wish I knew more about my ancestors. The only one of note is Wilson Pickett who was a black singer in the 60's...he was my grandmother's first cousin.

    But he pales in comparision to this post!

  23. I'm going to have to ask my mom and dad about this, but to my knowledge only my uncle fought in WWII.

    He was in a tank unit and got most of his right leg blown off.

    He returned to Canada, taught me how to shoot a gun and paid me to mow his lawn.

    He was kind of a terror in some ways, weird...when I was about 9 he hung me out over the grizzly bear enclosure at the zoo. I loved it but my dad just about killed him.

    We found out years later he had been sexually molesting his own son's daughter for years.

    He was divorced by my aunt immediately and has been estranged from the family ever since.

  24. awaiting,
    Excuse me..pales...
    Are you kidding me!
    that is soooo coooool.
    For anyone who can't remember check out this incredible list of hits.
    Way cool.

    What a horrible shocking story.
    I am so glad that he didn't drop you.
    That is so f*ckin'crazy...
    and why did you love it?
    I would have died of fright.

    Your Dad was right.
    I'd have killed him then and there and would have inadvertently spared your cousin's daughter from an unimaginable horror.

    What a world we live in. I know that there are way too many sad stories like that out there.

  25. tnxx HE...awww ur dad died so young too? HUGGGGGGGGGGZ! He is indeed a great man cos he made U.

    Pam tnxx n huggggggz!


  26. The funniest one I have also helped give a Daughter of the American Revolution a dose of acid reflux. She offhandedly mentions that, with my last name, I probably had no ancestors in the colonies. I replied that, yes, I did but he was repatriated with Cornwallis after Yorktown.

    Other than that: four great uncles who fought in Europe in WW II (one who made a return engagement in Korea) and a father who enjoyed the 'charms' of the Cold War eastern Med in the 70's while an amphib sailor.


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