From boy to man shepherd

by Paul White

This is Pavel Iordache, an eighty year old shepherd (only recently retired) who worked all his life in the Vrancea Mountains. I was taken to his house unannounced but as is usual in this hospitable part of the world I was warmly greeted and invited into his small house.

Pavel Iordache

Pavel had a friendly smile, but his face told a story of hardship with evidence of injury. He casually told me of the three occasions that he has been mauled by bears, not an uncommon event for a career Romanian shepherd tending their sheep in the mountains. On one occasion his face bore the brunt of the bear's attention, requiring hospitalisation and facial surgery. To this day however, Pavel's nose is deformed and deviates to one side.

Pavel is one of six children, all boys and all shepherds. He had a single year of education at school aged seven years. He then started his career as a shepherd aged eight years.

One of his earliest memories was standing on a mountain meadow with his sheep in the Vrancea Mountains, when he heard the drone of an aircraft engine. It was September 1944, the aircraft was on fire flying low over the forest. He noticed that the pilot threw several objects out of his window before approaching the meadow. He said the pilot looked fearful and he could hear him calling, as if for help. The pilot attempted to land but the sheep were in the way of his approach forcing him to swerve and unfortunately he crashed with tremendous force into the ground.

Pavel and several other shepherds rushed to the scene but there were no survivors. He said it was a gruesome sight with none of the crew intact and the remains of the aircraft on fire. The shepherds were concerned that the livestock guardian dogs and wild animals would eat the remaining body parts, so they collected all that they could find and buried them close to the aircraft. Once they had completed this grisly task they then moved from the meadow concerned that retreating German soldiers from the Russian front would come and investigate.

Irina and Pavel Iordache
Irina and Pavel Iordache

Before leaving the scene completely they decided to look for the objects thrown from the aircraft before it crashed. Eventually they found a single semi-automatic weapon and maps. They believed the crew knew in their desperation that the crash landing was going to be hard or fatal, so ejected these items for any possible survivors to find their way out of the forest. From the size of the aircraft they believed it to be a bomber, which was confirmed by the regular explosions heard overnight as the fire reached the ordinance stored on board.

The shepherds heard nothing from local forces about the crash site, but decided to err on the side of caution and did not return until the following spring. When they returned Pavel said the site was untouched. When word of this returned to the village, people went to the crash site to remove the metal parts. Pots, pans and combs were made from the aluminium parts and wedding rings were made from the pipework. They couldn't get to the engine as it was buried deep into the earth, signifying the degree of force on impact. We have since found out that metal fragments can still be found on the meadow, so on a future date Albert and I are going to investigate further. Due to the remote location we will need to use a 4x4 or horses to access the area.

I asked Pavel if he has any memories of the German land forces that retreated over the Vrancea mountains. He said he did but his lasting memories were of the Russian army that followed in pursuit. He said the Russians took everything from the village, including food and livestock. In their fear most villagers hid in the Black Valley waiting for the Russians to leave.

Tendon damage after bear mauling
Tendon damage after bear mauling

I asked about the era under the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and was not surprised by their answers as I hear the same from many older people. They said they felt much safer and more secure under Ceaușescu, there was less crime, everybody had a job, prices were more stable and affordable and everybody had somewhere to live. Pavel also thought there was better protection for their crops during that time. He said wild boar have much better protection under the present government but they destroy villagers' crops in ever growing numbers. He said it is so bad now that many have abandoned growing crops altogether.

This interview is a small snapshot into Pavel's life. We only visited for a couple of hours, but hope to return soon to document more of his memorable life.