German farmer demands cash for lost Allied WWII bodies

#1
A German farmer is refusing to allow British families to recover the remains of crew members of a Lancaster bomber shot down during the Second World War - unless they pay him €7,500 (£5,080).

The families of the crew are furious at the farmer's demands and are refusing to pay. They say that the farmer, Horst Bender, must not be allowed to make a profit from allowing them to give their dead relatives a proper burial with full military honours.

One relative described his demands as "shockingly greedy and insensitive".
Four British airmen and two Canadians were in the Lancaster MK1 bomber reported shot down over Germany. The bomber, marked EM-J with serial number PD216, was part of 207 squadron.

It took off from Spilsby in Lincolnshire on August 25, 1944, heading for the German city of Darmstadt, but was shot down before it reached its destination.

Local people recovered body parts of three of the men and buried them in an unmarked grave. When Allied troops arrived in the area they moved the remains to a military cemetery - two in individual, named graves and one in a collective grave.

But the rest of the remains and the aircraft were hidden under farmland in Geinsheim, near Darmstadt, until they were discovered by German historians in 2003.

The farmer gave permission for an excavation in 2005 but then suddenly demanded money. At first he wanted €5,000, but recently he put up the price to €7,500.

The Lancaster was piloted by Flt Lt Maurice Harding, with Sgt Leslie Gower as co-pilot. The other British crew were Flt Sgt Thomas Jones, Pilot Officer Maurice Savage and Sgt Hugh Hamilton. The Candian crew were Pilot Officer Stephen Sims and Flt Sgt Edward Kisilowsky.

The co-pilot's son, Terence Gower, 65, who lives in London, said that he wanted nothing more than to give a proper burial to the father he last saw when he was two-years-old.

Mr Gower said: "It is my dearest wish and on the day it happens you can bet I will be will be standing in that field. I am waiting for the 'yes'."

The pilot's daughter, April Copeland, a management consultant, said she had always been unsure of her father's fate.

"After the war my mother got a ring back from my father, and we were told that his body was probably one of the three that were recovered, but we never knew for sure," she said. "I visited the grave site but I never liked to ask too closely who was in there."

The pilot's widow, Audrey Ewing, who was 21 and three months pregnant with April when her husband died, said: "I visited my late husband's grave a couple of times but I never realised that most of the crew's remains were still buried in the field."

Officials at the British Embassy in Berlin have written to Mr Bender and local officials in an attempt to resolve the problem.

A spokesman said: "The families want a proper burial and we are keen to see their wishes carried out as soon as possible.

"But the farmer is refusing to allow us access unless he is paid. The families would like the aircraft to be excavated and any remains to be placed with the rest of the crew. They are adamant they don't want the farmer to profit from what was a family tragedy."

Mr Bender said he needed the money to cover the cost of returning the field to its original state after the remains had been dug up.

"Everyone wants to come on my land and dig, but no one has offered any money to cover the damages," he said. "I have nothing against giving my permission, but the costs have got to be covered. I can't say how much it would cost without making a thorough estimate, but it will not be less than €7,500."

Mr Bender said that grave robbers had been on the land looking for souvenirs from the aircraft and he was "fed up" with people trespassing.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/08/12/nbomber112.xml
 
#2
My father,being a Lancaster bomber pilot would be turning in his grave at this!
We should send some low flying Tornado GR4 's from 617 Dambusters over his farm just to remind him who won the f***ing war!!!!!
If he want's money,then he should apply to the EU! They give plenty to the feckin French!!!
 
#5
Don't agree entirely - I don't know how hard up German farmers are, but thinking at it from this side, most of the farmers over here aren't turning over a profit. Someone rocks up and wants to dig a hole three times the size of a lancaster in your feild, with tracks for all the plant, etc etc, and you have lost one whole field of crop. Yes it's a pisser that graves are involved; it makes it a much more sensitive issue. But if its a famous site, and has been trespassed on for ages, it's understandable for him to want recompense though. The family shouldn't have to foot the bill though, and asking them was insensitive in the extreme.
 
#6
Hang on,

Before everyone starts screaming "what a b*stard". If anything , he's gone a lot under what he could have asked.

Have you any idea how big the hole would have to be to properly excavate a Lancaster that's gone in, in that part of the world? If they're lucky, it will be soft loam, if not, clay.

Then there is access in and out and putting down a roadway for the diggers. How high is the water table, will they be running pumps and hoses? How long will the dig take?

Before we even start that , we need some ground sensing to get an idea, and do we know if the aircraft was inbound or outbound?

There may be false readings because bits of aircraft have hit separately from the main mass.

There will be a lot of people on site, and the disruption to the farmer, depending on the crash site, will be a lot.

The best people with the most experience of doing this by far , are the Dutch Air Force guys, and even they have to dig bloody great holes.

The fact is, he's asking £5,000 and I don't see how he is "profiting" from that.

We're lucky that he's actually said yes, subject to compensation. In the UK in the past, farmers have refused digs full-stop, in spite of the fact there is a body in the aircraft.

Just to illustrate the point, this is the excavation of P-Popeye , A Lanc from 113 Sqdn , shot down at Papendrecht.
 

Attachments

#7
PartTimePongo said:
In the UK in the past, farmers have refused digs full-stop, in spite of the fact there is a body in the aircraft.
Really? I was not aware of that - at the risk of sounding like Sven - links?
 
#9
sarnian said:
Don't agree entirely - I don't know how hard up German farmers are, but thinking at it from this side, most of the farmers over here aren't turning over a profit. Someone rocks up and wants to dig a hole three times the size of a lancaster in your feild, with tracks for all the plant, etc etc, and you have lost one whole field of crop. Yes it's a pisser that graves are involved; it makes it a much more sensitive issue. But if its a famous site, and has been trespassed on for ages, it's understandable for him to want recompense though. The family shouldn't have to foot the bill though, and asking them was insensitive in the extreme.
The German farmer gave permission to a group of GERMAN historians back in 2005 but now,when BRITISH & CANADIAN relatives want to recover the bodies of their family,he has decided he want's money!
The timescale is'nt in the article but I'm betting that's what happened.
I took my Dad around various war grave sites when he came to visit me in Germany.Every now & again he'd stop at a grave & stare at it,as if he knew the lad who was buried there.The first night back at the hotel,Dad cried & cried.I & mom felt helpless that we could'nt do anything to comfort him.Dad never talked about the war.
The Father of the German holtelier in Bruggen village where Dad was staying was a Luftwaffe crewman in the war,he could speak a little English.Him & Dad talked about the war till early morning.
If that was my Dad lying there in that field,I know how I'd feel!!
 
#10
PTP,they have already recovered three of the Aircrew,If he want's money to cover his cost's,then the EU or British Gov should cover it,not holding the families to ransom,which in effect he is doing.
I believe the EU paid farmers to let their fields lie unfarmed not so long ago.
 
#11
Really? I was not aware of that - at the risk of sounding like Sven - links?
Off the top of my head A_J , the case of Sgt. J. Gilders , and a dig finally done by Mark Kirby? For years the farmer wouldn't allow a dig, until the farm was sold and the new owner did.

Though to be fair to the previous farmer, in my opinion he simply didn't want the Pilot's last resting place disturbed.

Sparky ,

I've followed the exploits of the RNethAF recovery team for years, they've done some incredible work recovering aircraft from the Ijsselmeer , and ground recoveries. For an idea how how many Aircraft they've been involved in recovering , this PEF is pretty good

http://www.a1.nl/nfla/list.pdf

Though it only goes up to 2003, and I know of several recoveries or attempted since then , including another Lanc from the zuiderzee and A Wellington from a farm.

I'll try and find photos of the Wellington recovery , as I know it was a difficult one.

More Papendrecht piccies here, note the size of the hole.......

http://www.a1.nl/nfla/ND913.html

Recovery of a Stirling at Berging

http://www.gemeenteopmeer.info/Projecten/berging/fs1.htm
 

chrisg46

LE
Book Reviewer
#13
Plus if he was shot down en route to target, he might have a shed load of he on board...
A significantly bigger hole might ensue...
 
#14
armchair_jihad said:
It took off from Spilsby in Lincolnshire on August 25, 1944, heading for the German city of Darmstadt, but was shot down before it reached its destination.
Yep it was outgoing so possibly still live ordnance on board
 
#15
The Lancaster in question,PD216 was shot down on the night of 25/26 August 1944 at 0120Hrs whilst attacking the target at Darmstadt according to Harry Holmes book "Avro Lancaster,the definative record" so it was either just on,off or over target.So the chances of munitions on board are possible but in the initial excavation back in 2005,Would'nt the German archiaologists have got the German or even British to make the wreck safe.
 
#16
If this was the Naafi I would point out that the bloke's name is Bender. (I cant help it)

Obviously it would cost the man financially to have his crops dug up and he would be due compensation, however the way its being demanded, (ie putting the price up half way through) comes across as being an oppurtunist git.
 
#17
Regardless of the intellectual arguments, the fact is that a farmer wants to deny proper burial to our War Dead unless he makes a personal profit.

He does not appear to simply have asked for the land to be returned to its original state.

Very poor.
 
#18
Would'nt the German archiaologists have got the German or even British to make the wreck safe.
There are probably people o this site that can answer that Spike , but as far as I was aware , a lot of German EOD is tied up in getting rid of dumped Russian munitions (or were) , and of course all the packages we left them with previously that haven't gone off and are still getting found.

Remember 2 stories about Aircraft in Germany , both in lakes, one a Halibag, the other a Lanc, that were being left alone because the bombloads were still on board. Though I'm not sure if they're true or urban legend.
 
#19
I seriously don't understand the problem. If the relatives wish to excavate on the man's land, they would surely pay for it, and pay for the ground to be put back in a similar condition to that before the dig. Who else would pay?
 
#20
have just realised if i was a farmer i wouldnt want people digging up my fields after all its their livelyhood but he didnt have to ask for money im sure someone else would have paid for the excavation
 

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