78 Squadron Honours Fallen WWII Comrades
At 2255 on 24th May 1944, a 78 Sqn Halifax Mk III, LV905/EY-W “Willie” departed from RAF Breighton in Yorkshire and along with 431 other aircraft from Bomber Command set course for an attack on railway marshalling yards at Aachen, Germany.
The Halifax was on its return flight when it was attacked and shot down by a Luftwaffe Me110 Night Fighter. It crashed in flames into a peat marsh on the edge of the tiny village of Hank, Holland. All seven crew were killed. The aircraft broke up on impact and two of the crew were thrown clear. One was Sgt Butler – the other was unidentified. Both were buried locally soon after the crash. The front section of the aircraft quickly sank 30ft into the peat marsh, where it and the other five members of the crew remained for over 60 years.
In 2003 locals from Werkendam formed the ‘Salvage Halifax 1944 Foundation.’ They raised 250,000 Dutch Guilders, enabling the Royal Netherlands Air Force to excavate the aircraft. In 2005, 80% of the aircraft was recovered along with the remains of all five missing crewmembers. This then confirmed the identity of the sixth ‘unknown’ crew member. The two crew buried locally were exhumed and all seven were formally reburied with full military honours in the Jonkerbos War Cemetery, Nijmegen on 27th September 2006. Later the same day a memorial consisting of a propeller from the aircraft was unveiled near the crash site.
In June 2010 the No 3 Engine (Starboard Inner) from LV05/EY-W was returned to Breighton airfield, where the Real Aeroplane Company plan to incorporate the engine in a memorial to all 78 Sqn aircrew lost from there during WWII.
Although a memorial stone to 78 Sqn already exists near Breighton, it was considered appropriate to have an additional memorial erected at RAF Benson, dedicated to all those lost serving on 78 Sqn. As Sqn History officer, I was tasked to find an aircraft part (hopefully from a 78 Sqn aircraft) for incorporation into this new memorial.
Of the 182 Whitleys and Halifaxs 78 Sqn lost during WWII, 41 of them came down over The Netherlands area, so I began my search there. I established contact with WO Martin Snikkers of the RNLAF Aircraft Recovery Unit who confirmed they had a propeller unit from a Halifax – specifically from the No 3 engine of LV905/EY-W “Willie”. Furthermore the RNLAF confirmed that they would permanently donate this propeller back to 78 Sqn as a goodwill gesture.
On 15th October 2010 a Merlin departed Benson for the RNLAF Aircraft Recovery Unit near Rotterdam, where we were greeted by station personnel. The propeller unit was carefully loaded onto the Merlin.
Next day the Merlin flew to the village of Hank where LV905/EY-W had crashed. The crash site was clearly visible, as the Dutch Civil Authorities had lit seven fires in memory of the seven crew. On arrival we were met by the local Mayor and members of the “Salvage Halifax 1944 Foundation” committee.
At the memorial a wreath was laid and a two minute silence observed. The Mayor thanked 78 Sqn for attending and stated it remains the duty of The Netherlands never to forget the sacrifices made by Allied forces. At the crash site we heard an account of the aircraft’s last moments. The emotion and appreciation shown by the Dutch community towards the RAF was truly humbling. On departure the Merlin trailed both the Dutch National Flag and the RAF Ensign to the clear delight of all assembled below.
The propeller unit from LV905/EY-W is now on display in the entrance to the 78 Sqn Hangar prior to its inclusion in the memorial planned to be unveiled next year. Appropriately, 78 Sqn will be 95 years old on the 1st November 2011.
Nemo Non Paratus
Written By: Sgt Tony Hibberd SNCO I/C 78 Sqn Operations (Voluntary 78 Sqn History Officer)