1945 RAF Crash Victims Remembered in India

Clearly the person involved has a passion for the subject but this is a good illustration that not all of the descendents of our ex Colonial Subjects have turned their back on history.

Does anyone know someone in UK who could assist in tracing relatives?
Orissa: Memorial service for the Amarda Road Crash

This story begins from a visit to the Madras War Cemetery early this year. Researcher Anil Dhir was doing an article of the War Cemeteries in India and at the Cemetery he had come across a set of fourteen graves which were of airmen who had apparently died in a plane crash at Amarda Road.

A detailed enquiry from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at London got him much more. Anil’s quest to unravel the mystery of the fourteen graves put him on a six month searching journey to unravel the story of the Amarda Road Air Crash. The CWGC informed that the in 1953 the British Army Graves Concentration Unit had exhumed the bodies them from their original burial site near Amarda Road and transferred the remains to the newly established Madras War Cemetery.

Very few people know that the skies of Odisha had seen the crash of two aircraft which has collided against each other and resulted in the deaths of 14 airmen. On the 26th of July 1945 two British Royal Air Force B-24 Liberator four-engine bombers, EW225 and EW247, collided at low altitude. The aircrafts were based at the Amarda Road airfield and were part of a six-plane contingent from the Air Fighting Training Unit engaged in a formation flying exercise. Fourteen airmen – the crews of the two aircraft – died due to the severity of the collision and resulting crashes which happened an altitude of less then 2000 feet. The debris fell into paddy fields swollen from the monsoon rains. The exact spot is now in West Bengal, very near the border town of Jaleswar.

The Rasgovindpur Airstrip, (as it is known today) has a short but secret illustrious history which has never been made public. It had the longest runway in Asia, more then 2.5 kms long. The total runways, taxiways, aprons etc were more then 60 kms. Today, when one looks at the silent runway lying mostly vacant apart from a few odd cows grazing, one would find it difficult to associate the Airport with activities of any kind. But, this airstrip has played a very important role in the defense of India during the 2nd World War. Today all is forgotten, no details of the activities that happened here between 1943 and 1945 exist, not even in government and military records. The station came into existence during the war as a forward airfield against the Japanese conquest of Burma. The large strip served its purpose well as a landing ground for planes and also as a training space for special bombing missions.

The Amarda Road airstrip, as it was called in war terminology, spreads across an area of nearly 800 acres. Built in the 1940’s at a cost of Rs 3 crore it was eventually abandoned after the war. It was probably named as the Amarda Road Airfield due to the nearby Amarda Road railway station.

Immediately after the crash, efforts were made to reach the crash site which was located approximately 47 statute miles as the crow flew northeast of Amarda Road. Given the remoteness of the locale, the lack of roads and bridges, and the severely limiting monsoon conditions, little could be done in the short term. There was news of some human remains that were reportedly discovered and then buried on site during the initial search efforts, but the evidence of this is vague and insufficient.

Anil contacted war historians and in the course of six months could get much more details of the crash. Matthew J. Poole from the United States has done extensive research on the Crash and had produced a comprehensive report of the crash and its aftermath. In fact it was the only detailed source of information. From him, Anil managed to get more details of the crash, including official correspondence. The report had detailed information on the date and time of the crash and the location co-ordinates. The details could be accessed from the log books of the remaining four planes which flew over the crash site for more then two hours and even dropped relief and rescue materials. The type and mark of the aircraft and the call signs with the crew list and relatives was also given by Matthew. The exact co-ordinates were 22’04 North 87’43 East. In May this year Anil did a recce of the area and could with the help of an advanced GPS locate the exact site where the aircraft had fallen. He even found three old men who recollected the events of the day.

Anil, then, thru Matthew tried to locate the living relatives of the dead airmen. He was able to three of the relatives of the dead. One is the 100 years old brother of Flight Sergeant Cyril William Geeson - Flight Engineer who died aged 23 and the other is the daughter of Flight Officer Peter Ettlinger who was the Flight Engineer of the flight and died aged 30 years. Ettlinger’s daughter was just ten months old when her father was killed in the crash. He had never seen her. She has been researching the crash of her father from the last fifty years. In fact she has made three visits to India but could only visit her fathers Grave at the Madras War Cemetery. She did not know about the Armada Strip and the crash site.

The relatives of these airmen were very surprised when Anil contacted them. Most of them had given up hope of knowing any more about the death of their loved ones. He got heartbreaking letters from them. The 100 years old brother of Cyril Geeson wrote that he still remembers his brother every single day.

He was deeply moved by the letters he received from them. He is still trying to trace the relatives of the other eleven, one was a Dutch, two New Zealanders and the lone Indian was P.V.Mathai. He is sure he will be able to contact a few more. Matthew Poole is helping in locating the remaining next of kin.

Today, the 26th of July 2011, a memorial service for the fourteen dead airmen was held at the abandoned Armada Road Air Strip. Wreaths were laid for each of the dead airmen. There were many local people including school children present at the site. Anil Dhir has requested the government of Odisha and West Bengal to erect small memorials for these airmen at Amarda Road and the crash site.

This is the least we can do for these brave men who gave up their lives for the defense of our motherland.
Orissa: Memorial service for the Amarda Road Crash, Orissa District News

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