It was a beautiful day, November 23, with clear blue but cold skies and many, many contrails of passing airplanes. This might have been the start of an eyewitness report of the crash of a Lancaster of the 405-E squadron on November 23, 1943. But it was November 23, 2013. The many, many spectators thought they were in 1943 for a moment.
It was on this November 23, 1943 a Lancaster got into troubles, before it could drop its bomb load on a target in German territory. The plane was heavily attacked near the German border and was severely damaged. The pilot lost his control of the aircraft and summoned his crew to exit the plane. Shortly after that a huge explosion followed. One of the crewmembers succeeded to leave the plain by parachute. He was the only survivor. He did try to find his comrades, who must have landed in the surroundings or get into contact with people, who could help him. This was written down by the only survivor of this crash later, when he was safe and sound back in the UK.
A Dutch eyewitness in that time expressed the history the way he experienced it at the concerned evening. It was still an impressive narrative of a fight to the death which happened 70 years ago. 6 dead bodies were the outcome. 5 crewmen of RCAF and one of RAF gave their lives for our freedom.
These men are all buried at the cemetery in Ter Apel and are being commemorated in present of a few of their dearly beloved and relatives. It was a memorable ceremony. The organizing committee did a great job for sure. Next to a few relatives there were representatives of the Canadian and British Embassy, The King´s Commissioner of Groningen, the Mayor of Vlagtwedde and members of RCL Branch 005. The Branch was also represented by the deployment of the Colour Party.
The memorial service started with a gathering in the St. Willibrordus Church in Ter Apel. The church was fully crowded with invitees and spectators, who also would like to pay their respect in this way. The Colour Party was situated on the altar flanked by the guard of honour of the Royal Air Force. The guard of honour consisted of cadets of the Royal Academy from Breda. The service in the church consisted of the already mentioned eyewitness report, several speeches and many songs and music by choirs and school children. In the speech of the chairman of the organizing committee, he emphasized that during the organization of this event it was certainly clear that this commemoration will be continued every year. Not as extensive as it is now, but on a smaller scale. After the part in the church, the enormous group departed accompanied by old vehicles of Keep Them Rolling, to the cemetery.
At first people halted before the graves of a few locale fighters of the resistance on the general cemetery, who were commemorated by the also present veterans. Next the entire group went to the Catholic cemetery. At that spot close to the graves of the deceased crewmembers the Colour Party was again installed, next to them the guard of honour of the Royal Air Force. The colours of Canada, the UK and the Netherlands hung at half-mast. In the speeches, which were held there, the brother of the deceased pilot Chuck Gardiner thanked everyone who attended and especially the committee for keeping alive the memory.
Also the president of RCL Branch 005 was asked to speech during this ceremony. Which you can read in whole (partly English, partly Dutch) by clicking this link .
In his speech, he elucidated the role of RCL Branch 005 in the Netherlands. Then he went on to the air battles, which has contributed so much to the liberation of the Netherlands. So over 7,000 aircrafts have crashed during WWII or tried to land for the last time. Much later people realized the extent of the sacrifices made by the Allied Air Forces as they were faced with so many airmen graves as a result of the air battles.
After the speeches the wreaths were laid. RCL Branch 005 also honoured these hero’s with a wreath, which was laid by our comrade Jan Sievers. It was done in a honourable and respectful way. Furthermore the National Anthems of the participated countries were played. During this the colours were pulled up in the top of the flagpoles by the veterans and children.
The next moment the Historic flight of the Royal Air Force arrived to complete everything with dignity. A Harvard and Beechcraft plane passed over 3 times in the still amazing blue sky and in the higher spheres the still present contrails. As already mentioned earlier, this day imaged November 23, 1943, only without the rumbling of onboard weapons or the exploding of bombs. The performance of the Royal Air Force was finished by a missing man formation.
Het was een prachtige dag, 23 november, met een stralend blauwe maar koude lucht met heel veel condensstrepen van overvliegende vliegtuigen. Zo zou ook een ooggetuigenverslag van het neerstorten van een Lancaster van het 405-E squadron op 23 november 1943 kunnen beginnen. Maar het was 23 november 2013. Precies 70 jaar later. De vele, vele toeschouwers waanden zich even in 1943.