RAF wartime bomber crew finally laid to rest

#1
Another good story from the Telegraph. RIP

By Kate Connolly in Berlin
(Filed: 02/09/2005)
The haunting strains of Last Post drifted across Berlin's Military Cemetery yesterday as the remains of five members of an RAF bomber's crew were buried 61 years after it was shot down.

The remains were found two years ago in a field south of Berlin, tangled in the wreckage of their Halifax LW 430, shot down by Luftwaffe nightfighters.
About 25 relatives gathered in Berlin for the ceremony in which the men were buried with full military honours.
Brothers and sisters of the men, aged between 22 and 31 at the time of their deaths, paid tribute to their bravery before laying flowers at the grave.
Just one coffin, containing the remains and draped in the Union Flag, was lowered into the ground by members of the RAF's Queen's Colour Squadron.
The grave was marked by a single headstone with the words "Five airmen of the 1939-45 war, members of the crew of Halifax LW 430" engraved on it.
The other two crewmen are believed to have been thrown from the plane but were recovered by locals in Saxony at the time of the crash. They are thought to have been buried in a cemetery nearby.
Prayers were said earlier at the former garrison church of St George's at a service opened by a recital of Franz Liszt's Liebestraum (Dream of Love). The plane's navigator, Sgt Norman Cooper, 24, who became engaged 18 months before the tragedy, had wanted it to be played at his wedding and, if he failed to make it home from the war, at his funeral.
His youngest brother, Gordon, 79, from Wiveliscombe, near Taunton, said: "It is as traumatic now as it was when I first got the news. He was such a happy lad, very cheeky and with good looks that earned him the nickname Gary Cooper. I recall walking down the street with him and wishing the girls would look at me like they looked at him."
The crew, which had been together for nine months, was on its 19th mission. One more would have seen it stood down from operations.
June Llewelyn, 69, the younger sister of Sgt John Burdett, the wireless operator and air gunner, who was 22 when he died, said: "I'm happy to be able to finally close this chapter in my life.
"When the RAF contacted me to say they'd found him I felt like I'd won the lottery. I grew up always wondering what had happened to him and this is a very emotional day for me."
On the night of 24 March 1944, the Halifax took off from RAF Leconfield, North Yorks, for what turned out to be its last sortie. Unexpected winds of more than 100mph blew it off course and into the path of nightfighters and heavy ground fire.
The night proved to be the second worst for losses suffered by Bomber Command in the Second World War. Out of 1,000 bombers on operations that night, 72 were shot down.
Yesterday's burial was attended by Gunter Sinnecker, a Luftwaffe pilot from the squadron that shot down the Halifax. Relatives supported the move to invite him.
"I suppose we have to look at it as though they were just doing their job," said Gillian Beresford, whose cousin Sgt Jack Boston was an air gunner. "Our chaps were doing theirs." The crew consisted of Pilot Officer William McLeod, from Glasgow, Air Bomber Sgt Sidney Wheeler, from Bristol, Wireless Operator and Air Gunner Sgt John Burdett, from Basildon, Flight Engineer Sgt Angus Webb, from Whitstable, Air Gunner Sgt Jack Boston, from Leigh-on-Sea, Rear Gunner Sgt Ronald Turner, from Monks Risborough, Bucks, and Norman Cooper, the navigator, from Taunton.
kconnolly@telegraph.co.uk
 
C

cloudbuster

Guest
#2
By coincidence, the bloke that runs the Halifax website (www.57Rescue.org) is giving it up due ill health. He's looking for an afficionado to take up the reins.
 
#3
Cloudbuster, check your PM's , I know just the man , and he's a damn fine type too who's been involved with ethical RnethAF recoveries in recent years, including a Lancaster from the Ijsselmeer last year, and a Wellington (Crew aboard) 2 years ago.

I imagine he knows about the situation anyway, as he is quite close to Ian.
 
#4
Seems strange that they didn't get individual coffins and weren't named on the headstone. Even if the bones were jumbled together in the aircraft it would have been possible to separate them with DNA. They deserve that much and I really hope it wasn't a cost thing.

Nice that the Luftwaffe bod was invited.
 
#6
One of the decorated Nachtjager aces, Hauptmann Peter Spoden is a frequent contributor on one of the boards I frequent. Very nice man , very heavily involved with helping relatives find the remains of their loved ones, or putting them in contact with the appropriate authorities.

http://www.luftwaffe.cz/spoden.html
 
#8
RIP guys, they deserve it after so long.

Sadly, the widow of the Bf 109 pilot (he survived the war but died several years ago) who actually shot the aircraft down was invited but refused to attend.

Regards,
MM
 
#9
Awol said:
Seems strange that they didn't get individual coffins and weren't named on the headstone. Even if the bones were jumbled together in the aircraft it would have been possible to separate them with DNA. They deserve that much and I really hope it wasn't a cost thing.

................

That crossed my mind as well.

Any reason the remains weren't returned to Britain?
 
#10
RCSignals said:
Awol said:
Seems strange that they didn't get individual coffins and weren't named on the headstone. Even if the bones were jumbled together in the aircraft it would have been possible to separate them with DNA. They deserve that much and I really hope it wasn't a cost thing.

................

That crossed my mind as well.
It's possible that it was deemed that as they'd lain together for so many years it was actually inappropriate to separate them - I thought it seemed almost 'cosy' when I read it - though I don't know why they weren't named on the headstone.
 
C

cloudbuster

Guest
#11
I might be incorrect, but their names are almost certainly perpetuated on the Runnymede Memorial, since they were originally listed as missing. The policy for the repatriation of remains is a question for CWGC - it may be it was deemed more appropriate for them to be buried as they fought - as a crew.

Edited to add that although I might appear a little insensitive, my thoughts are that if the remains buried are those of the occupants of the front of the aircraft, it might be difficult to identify each one.
 
#12
DozyBint said:
RCSignals said:
Awol said:
Seems strange that they didn't get individual coffins and weren't named on the headstone. Even if the bones were jumbled together in the aircraft it would have been possible to separate them with DNA. They deserve that much and I really hope it wasn't a cost thing.

................

That crossed my mind as well.
It's possible that it was deemed that as they'd lain together for so many years it was actually inappropriate to separate them - I thought it seemed almost 'cosy' when I read it - though I don't know why they weren't named on the headstone.
Could they not have been lain together in Britain?
 
#13
RCSignals said:
DozyBint said:
RCSignals said:
Awol said:
Seems strange that they didn't get individual coffins and weren't named on the headstone. Even if the bones were jumbled together in the aircraft it would have been possible to separate them with DNA. They deserve that much and I really hope it wasn't a cost thing.

................

That crossed my mind as well.
It's possible that it was deemed that as they'd lain together for so many years it was actually inappropriate to separate them - I thought it seemed almost 'cosy' when I read it - though I don't know why they weren't named on the headstone.
Could they not have been lain together in Britain?
Prior to the Falklands all war dead remain on the field of of battle, repatriation of remains was and is forbidden. Ref Runnymead, they are no longer missing so their names will be removed in due course, probably when the relevant panel is renewed.
 
#14
It might be more complicated.

If the crew's names are known they ought to be able to name them. There could put the names of all five on one or two stones. There are several graves in Baueaux Cemetery which are clearly entire bomber or AFV crews.

Maybe there is some doubt about exactly which five they have? Were some others of the crew still missing? How sure are they that those buried were definitely those related to the visiting relatives? I think they have some fairly strict criteria before thewy can say that a body has been positively identified.

I don't think genetics is well enough advanced to be able to match genetic samples of near relatives. People are much more closely related than we like to think.
 
#15
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew -
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.


- John Gillespie Magee, Jr


Rest in Peace
 
#17
Pteranadon said:
It might be more complicated.

If the crew's names are known they ought to be able to name them. There could put the names of all five on one or two stones. There are several graves in Baueaux Cemetery which are clearly entire bomber or AFV crews.

Maybe there is some doubt about exactly which five they have? Were some others of the crew still missing? How sure are they that those buried were definitely those related to the visiting relatives? I think they have some fairly strict criteria before thewy can say that a body has been positively identified.

I don't think genetics is well enough advanced to be able to match genetic samples of near relatives. People are much more closely related than we like to think.
They will certainly know who was on the aircraft, and as far as I know, all they need is DNA from a living female relative to get a match. If they can convict crims twenty years after a murder through DNA it should be a doddle to compare the crew's with a dozen present-day relatives.
 
#18
Brave lads one and all. This was to be the last raid of the so-called "Battle of Berlin" which totalled 19 in all. This particular raid on the night of 24/25 March 1944 became known as 'the Night of the Big Winds'. By this stage of the war, Bomber Command employed a system called 'Windfinder', where navigators calculated wind speeds en route to the target by using Gee or H2S. They then reported these wind speeds back to their respective Group Headquarters in Engand who calculated the average windspeed and transmitted this figure to all aircraft in their respective Group.
Some navigators were calculating wind speeds of 130 mph, but because they couldn't believe this figure could be so high, they scaled down the reading before sending it back to England. Group Headquarters in turn scaled down this figure again before sending out fresh windspeeds to the Bomber Force. The result of this scaling down was that the 811 Lancasters, Halifaxes and Mosquitos dispatched that night were spread over a huge frontage from their intended route over Denmark to well into Germany. They lost the 'security' of being in the bomber stream and 72 aircraft were shot down, mostly on the return leg from Berlin. Some of these aircraft were 200 miles South of track when they were shot down.
I have nothing but respect for these brave lads who flew in horrendous conditions and suffered serious losses throughout the bombing offensive. But what really grips me is that no campaign medal has ever been issued for the European Bomber Offensive which is a massive travesty IMHO.

We shall remember them.
 
#19
Breech,
Totally agree,
All/most who served on Murmansk convoy runs , quite rightly, were awarded medals.
Surely this was just as much a part of the total war effort?
 
#20
Awol said:
They will certainly know who was on the aircraft, and as far as I know, all they need is DNA from a living female relative to get a match. If they can convict crims twenty years after a murder through DNA it should be a doddle to compare the crew's with a dozen present-day relatives.
It is straightforwards to matching a criminal with his own dna left at the scene.

It is also fairly straight forward to match parents with their children -but thats not easy when the dead are young men who died 60 years ago.

It is a lot more complicated, and less certain, to match more distant relatives. Check this arfticle in New Scientist.http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn6851 The US had problems testing boidy parts post 9/11.

AFIK the CGWC are painstaking and try their best. If the names aren't there, there is probably a rational reason.
 

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