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The crash in West-Beemster

This story gives the historic background to the large aircrash that took place on the night of June 25th to 26th, 1943, which killed three of the Royal Air Force crew and with four others lost – also believed to be dead. Some details have not been verified with certainty, but by and large the story is well documented.

During the Second World War Germany had been increasingly bombed by aircraft of the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Forces. The Americans mainly flew by day, the British and men from the Commonwealth by night. One of the main flight paths to Germany went via the airspace over North-Holland. It goes without saying that the Germans tried to obstruct these bombing raids of German industries and cities as much as possible. The moment allied planes crossed the Dutch coast line and found themselves above occupied territoy, German fighter planes and Flak, the German anti-aircraft guns, tried to shoot down as many aircraft as possible. During the five years of air war, thousands of allied planes crashed all over the country, but a higher number than avarage came down in the western part of the Netherlands and the IJsselmeer, the former Zuyderzee.

Friday June 25th, 1943, at ca. 24.00 h. local time a formation of Avro Lancaster III bombers took off from RAF Grimsby in Lincolnshire, East-England. The raid that night was against Gelsenkirchen, the German Ruhr area, and 100 Squadron provided 18 aircraft of the 457 tasked by Bomber Command.
The weather was poor with total cloud cover for most of the outbound leg and over the target, which meant that the marking was not clearly visible and bombing accuracy suffered as a result. Loses were high that night, the highest percentage  suffered by Bomber Command up to that date.
One of the aircraft was ED 988 HW-J and would never reach Gelsenkirchen. Saturday around 01.00 h. local time the aircraft approached the Dutch coast at IJmuiden and was attacked by a German night fighter or by Flak.
One or two engines of the left wing caught fire and the plane got out of control and in a gliding flight came down and crashed in the meadows of West-Beemster at 01.15 h.

Farmer J. Scheringa, on whose land the crash took place, and his neighbour blacksmith Piet Dekker, went together to the burning aircraft to see if they could help. Scheringa and the general physician, who arrived shortly afterwards, independently from each other are said to have seen one or more surviving crew members. The farmer  reported later that they fled in the dark night; the doctor told that he and his brother in law, a marine, managed to put the men up in a nearby milk factory. After that, no trace of them has ever been found. They have officially been registered as missing in action.

The standard crew of a Lancaster was seven men. ED 988 had, alphabetically, the following crew members on board:                                            

Sgt Leonard Bennett   RAF age unkown
Sgt Cyril Connah  RAF age 22
Sgt John Dillon RAF age 22
Sgt Ronald William Mepsted RAF age 20
F/S Jack Naile RAAF age 27
F/S Lawrence George Porritt RNZAF  age 21
P/O Charles Pharaoh Reynolds RAF age 21
Leonard Bennett, Ronald Mepsted and Lawrence Porritt (from New Zealand) died in the crash and were recovered by German soldiers before the aircraft exploded. They were temporarily laid down in the horse-stable behind community center ‘de Kerckhaen’. June 29th, 1943, they were buried at the Nieuwe Ooster Begraafplaats (New Eastern Graveyard) in Amsterdam. There, amidst other allied airmen killed in the air war, they still rest on the field of honour, an official Commonwealth War Grave cemetry. They all are yearly remembered at November 11, Remembrance Day, in a ceremony attended not only by military and civil authorities but also by children of the English School and Polish children – many Polish military served in the RAF during World War II.

The names of the four missing crew members – Cyril Connah, Leslie Naile (from Australia), John Dillon and Charles Reynolds – are mentioned at the Runnymede Air Forces Memorial in Surrey, South England.

WE GRATEFULLY REMEMBER THEM