Sunday, July 30, 2006

What happened at Molenaarsgraaf, Netherlands during WW2

Molenaarsgraaf Service held on 4 May 1945

This photograph shows the service held for the six British Airmen buried at Molenaarsgraaf, Netherlands on the Dutch Liberation Day on 4 May 1945. It is one of a series of photographs taken during the service and sent to Mrs Selina Blair, widow of one of the airmen a couple of years after the war together with an eye witness account of the events at Molenaarsgraaf in May 1944 and May 1945.

On the night of 21 / 22 May 1944, a Lancaster ND559 was shot down over the village while returning from a bombing mission to Duisburg. Six British airmen lost their lives and were buried in the village churchyard. These airmen were Squadron Leader Jack Blair, Sergeant J.T.E. McCaffery, Flight Sergeant E.E.E. Roberts and Flight Sergeant R.G. Watts. The pilot, Flight Sergeant William Ward survived the crash and spent the rest of the war as a POW.

The German Nightfighter pilot who shot down the Lancaster ND 559 that crashed at Molenaarsgraaf was Hauptman Martin Drewes and the Burgomaster of Molenaarsgraaf at the time of the plane crash was Mr D. Brouwer. After the bodies of the dead airmen had been identified and inspected by the German authorities on 22 May 1944 the German Town Major from Dordrecht said that they should be buried by the villagers, but no coffins should be used and no crosses or flowers were to be placed on the graves.

However, the Burgomaster asked the men of the villagers to make six wooden coffins and a wooden cross. Working through the night the coffins and cross were made and the airmen were laid to rest with due respect, and flowers were placed on the grave. The Burgomaster and other villagers later wrote to the bereaved families of the six airmen and explained what had happened to their loved ones. I have been allowed to read through the letters sent to Mrs Selina Blair, who passed away in December 2005 more than 60 years after thr war. What follows is a brief summary I have made from this correspondence.
On the day the Dutch were liberated from the Germans in May 1945, the Burgomaster led the villagers to the Churchyard, together with some Allied soldiers who had been hidden for several weeks following the Arnhem Operation. Virtually all the villagers attended the funeral service. Large bouquets of flowers were placed on the grave. At last, after almost a year, due respect could be given to these airmen.

Each year since the end of the Second World War, on 4 May, Dutch Liberation Day, the six airmen who lie at rest at Molenaarsgraaf are remembered and honoured for their sacrifice. Their crewmate, Flight Sergeant William Ward, visited the village and the graves of his crewmates after the war. He came from the Walsall area. After it was discovered he had survived and become a POW, Flight Sergeant Ward’s mother wrote to the families of some of his crewmates to give them the little information she knew via correspondence received via the Red Cross. This was a magnificent gesture, much appreciated by the other families.

The events that took place at Molenaarsgraaf, Netherlands are worthy of remembrance. The six airmen laid to rest in the village will long be remembered, as should the efforts of the villagers to give these men a fitting and respectful funeral.

J. Ritson
July 2006

15 Comments:

Blogger Peter G said...

Lancaster III ND559 GT-J of 156 Squadron was part of a huge raid on Duisburg on the night of 21-22 May 1944. ND995 took off at 2244 hrs from RAF Upwood. Following the night fighter attack it exploded throwing clear F/Sgt Ward. Sqd Leader Blair DFC DFM was 156 Squadron's gunnery leader. He gained his DFM with 103 Squadron, details appearing in the London Gazette on 24 October 1941.

F/Sgt Ward ended up in Stalag Luft VII in Bankau, Poland, opened on 6 June 1944. His PoW number at the newly opened camp was 134.

510 Lancasters and 22 Mosquitoes of 1, 3, 5, and 8 Groups carried out the raid; 29 Lancasters were lost, 5.5% of the force. The target was covered by cloud but the Oboe sky-marking was accurate.

Much damage was caused in the southern area of Duisburg with 350 buildings destroyed and a further 665 seriously damaged. Casualties were reported as 124 killed.

Sunday, 30 July, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Joseph -
The gratitude of the Dutch people extends even to-day with the shipments of thousands of flower bulbs to the hundreds of "Dutch" gardens to be found in many cities and towns all across this great land as donations from a grateful people for the efforts of the five divisions of the Canadian Army in the latter stages of the war.
In the valley of the Mighty Fraser river - where I live - the effects of a massive Dutch immigration can be seen in the pristine nurseries and farms all around us. Just yesterday we had a tremendous bunch of Gladioli delivered by a local Dutchman on our 56th wedding anniversary - they will last for a long time.

Sunday, 30 July, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Hello and thanks for the comments.

Firstly, I have sent you a message via e-mail Peter. I cannot post the photo I was intending to attach itself to this story. Can you help please? I've tried to explain what has happened in the e-mail. I've made six attempts at posting the photo. It keeps saying it has uploaded but when I go back to the text there is nothing there! You seem to be more clued up on this than I am so I am hoping you can see what the problem is.

I've actually been allowed to go through all of the letters and photographs kept by Mrs Selina Blair from the war years. Mrs Blair passed away only last December a few days after I posted the last piece of information about Jack Blair's story to the "People's War" website.

I have also been through Jack Blair's logbook, which gives a list of everything up to and including the last flight. With the family's permission, I've photographed each page of the logbook and many of the other documents and photographs that might be of interest to historical researchers in years to come. I've given a paper copy and a CD to the Blair family, and donated the same to the Cumbria County Archives for use by other researchers. This seemed to me the best place to donate the information as they will look after it.

I have used similar wording to the "People's War" about copying and using any photographs or written information. If other researchers do use it, I have asked that full credit of the source of information is given, and if it is to be used for commercial purposes a donation should be made to the Royal British Legion. I think that is only fair when material is being donated voluntarily.

I hope it was you who ordered the flowers for the good lady, Tom! it would be no good you remembering all the dates of what happened in the war and then forgetting your wedding anniversary!!! Please accept a belated congratulations to you both for you from me.

Best wishes
J. Ritson

Sunday, 30 July, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Joseph - come now - you don't suppose for one minute that I have lasted these many years on sometimes - undeclared war - which is the married state by forgetting anniversaries.
It is always my pleasure to visit the nursery to have a chat with the good Dutch people who own it and support them with my orders,their roses are "out of this world" - Gladioli's also !
There is always a cheerful greeting and lots of smiles belying the traumas their parents suffered.

Monday, 31 July, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The Dutch certainly cultivate some excellent flowers, and not only tulips. I've visited the Netherlands quite a few times (as you might know if you've read some of the "People's War" accounts I wrote) and they are generally a very friendly and outgoing people.

Monday, 31 July, 2006  
Blogger Josephine Hoogstede said...

Joseph, nice to meet you. could you tell me where in Holland is MOLENAARSGRAAF??
i visited a small grave yard in BEESEL were allied were buried. i do not know whether it had a specific name. I have a picture and it looks very much like the picture of Molenaarsfraaf cemetery
Josephine

Wednesday, 20 September, 2006  
Blogger Josephine Hoogstede said...

Hello tomcann. I am back trying to get blogging again!
Yes, we in Holland will ALWAYS be grateful for the Allied who liberated us! i recently came in contact with a MAJOR from The WELSH BRIGADE who fought in the liberation of DEN BOSCH , the city were i was working as a NURSE. Every year in October he goes to that city to help celebrate with the liberationt of that city : IN OCTOBER'41the fight lasted 5 days and the welsh brigade lost a lot of his men.I wished i could go too but after the dog mauling my traveling days are over. but major Davies sent me a DVD with the celebrations: it is strange io see the city completely "repaired''. I NEVER SAW IT IN THAT SHAPE AS I WAS POSSIBLY WORKING IN THE FAR EAST TAKING CARE OF CONCENTRATION CAMP VICTIMS I hope you are still in good shape!I live in BEND (Or) we had already one cold wave you sent us!!josephine

Wednesday, 20 September, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Josephine -
It's just great to hear from you once more as I thought you had given us up as bunch of old fuddies - so welcome back and trust that you are over your dog mauling and back to your usual bright self. I recall you moving to Bend in Oregon and trust that you have settled into that beautiful area.
Srry about our weather descending on you but strangely we are grateful as we had avery long hot summer and i was contemplating painting the lawns green, but now that the monsoonsare setting in - I cansave a lot of paint !
This has been a good week as we have hadAudley from the U.k. - Ronmac fromAlberta and now yourself from the USA return to join our tall tales.
we are still the same four from the BBc series and still get the odd query through the BBc archives to keep us on our toes !
Keep in touch and again - welcome back !

Wednesday, 20 September, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

Well done Josephine, you did not need my help after all.
Keep it going.
Frank.

Thursday, 21 September, 2006  
Blogger Peter G said...

Josephine

Joseph may not have seen your question regarding Molenaarsgraaf since this is an old thread.

Meanwhile, click here for information on Molenaarsgraaf.

Thursday, 21 September, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Hi folks,

Thanks to Josephine, and our CO Peter for the postings about Molenaarsgraaf. Sorry about the late response, but unfortunately I have had a few days away with work, and a family member has been in hospital. These things have taken up a bit more of my time. I also thought I'd post a few photographs to the BBC 'WDYTYA' website, so some of the computer time I can spare has been spent on doing those.

As Peter has put a link to the thread about Molenaarsgraaf I won't spend much time explaining about its location. Mr Arjan Wemmers who contacted me through the "People's War" Message Board sent me a written description (in Dutch) about the plane crash, which I've passed on to the relatives of Jack Blair who live about 4 miles away from my home. I tried to find somebody to translate this into English, and I even took it into BBC Radio Cumbria for help but we couldn't find anybody who speaks Dutch!

A lot of the photographs in this Dutch story had been sent to Mrs Selina Blair (widow of Jack Blair) through the Dutch War Graves Committee and British Legion. So, I had already seen most of these when I had been through everything with Mr Eddie Blair, the son of Jack and Selina.

According to Mr Wemmers, he is part of a group that excavates plane crash sites in the Netherlands (with permission) and they pay tribute to the people who died in the war in these plane crashes. They have a website, and he has given me a link to this and I've looked at it. I might send this on to Peter, and perhaps he can add it as a link to this site, if that is allowed? They are hoping to excavate the site where the engine of this Lancaster bomber is believed to be buried.

The stories about the plane crash at Molenaarsgraaf, and the aircrew, were only a fraction of what I put together. With the permission of the Blair family, I donated a disk of all the documents to the Cumbria County Archives (our home county). I've also sent a copy to Mr Wemmers in the Netherlands, with a similar proviso to the "People's War" website that it can be used for persnal and private research, and if anything is used for commercial purposes, that a donation is made to the Royal British Legion. Hopefully, this should prevent any possible problems with copyright or plagiarism in years to come.

In 2005, Mrs Mary Simon, a cousin of of another member of the aircrew buried at Molenaarsgraaf (F/Sgt E.E.E. Roberts) visited the village. Thanks to Mr Wemmers, I was able to get in contact with this lady and I also sent her a copy of large file of documents I had put together. I am fairly sure Mrs Blair had been in contact with the mother of F/Sgt Roberts after their menfolk had been posted missing. Mrs Blair had kept a letter from the mother of F/Sgt W. Ward (the pilot and only member of the aircrew who survived). In it, Mrs Ward specifically mentions sharing news about what had happened with Mrs Roberts. Whether any of the relatives ever met, or whether they only corresponded by letter I couldn't tell. Mr Eddie Blair was not sure either way. He had only been a young lad at the time.

Although most of my research had primarily dealt with Jack Blair, Mrs Simon seemed quite pleased that her cousin was still remembered and being honoured for his sacrifice, in Britain and in the Netherlands. I was most touched with this.

My research on this thread started from a small newspaper cutting that turned up from a family member of mine last year. I had never heard of Jack Blair until then. Yet he had been this extremely famous airman from my own area and well known in West Cumberland during and just after the war.

Some of my older relatives seemed to be in the same circles as Jack Blair before the war. My feeling is that my relatives must have known Jack and Selina, if only slightly. My Dad's cousin Margaret worked for the local newspaper. During the war, I think they sometimes used to visit families of people who were missing or had been killed. One possibility is that Margaret went with the editor of the local newspaper to see Mrs Blair at the time he went missing. This might explain the newspaper cutting, but I doubt I will ever know this for sure.

For a long time I thought I would never find out much about the plane crash at Molenaarsgraaf, or the aircrew who flew on that fateful mission. Eventually, I thought it was one of the most successful lines of research I did for the "People's War" project. I hope this has given everybody an update. Thanks again!

Thursday, 21 September, 2006  
Blogger john gunkle said...

we have just come back from the liberation day celebrations in molenaarsgraaf, my father in law Brian Watts is the brother of RG Watts, the flight sergeant on the crashed lancaster nd559, along with his two daughters Deborah & Sarah, we were treated so well by the people of the grafstroom area, it was a very emotional time for Brian as he hadnt been to his brothers grave for 54 years, we are very grateful to Arjan Wemmers who has done lots of research into the lancaster crash, he gave up 2 days from renovating his new house to be our guide, & also all the info he gave us

Monday, 10 May, 2010  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Nice to read your comments, John, and that you were in Molenaarsgraaf for the 65th Anniversary Liberation Day / VE Day commemorations of May 2010. While May 1945 was a joyous time in virtually all respects, it was also tinged with some sadness for those many friends and family who had paid with their lives during the six years of the war.

It is good to see Arjan and fellow countrymen remember the sacrifices for the price of freedom. The Dutch people, above all other peoples I would suggest, will always remember the sacrifices.

If you have any photographs of the May 2010 commemorations, John, perhaps you could post them to this site and share them?

Tuesday, 11 May, 2010  
Blogger Katie Tootsie Anderson said...

My great uncle was Sgt John Thomas Eardley and I'm trying to find out as much as I can about the night he was killed. Unfortunately, all Uncle John's siblings (including my gran) have now passed, and their children are all too young to remember events so I have no direct source of information.

I have found this article very informative and heart warming. If anyone has any additional information on the events of that night and the actions taken by the villagers, I'd be extremely grateful.

Thank You so much

Wednesday, 11 July, 2012  
Blogger Katie Tootsie Anderson said...

My great uncle was Sgt John Thomas Eardley and I'm trying to find out as much as I can about the night he was killed. Unfortunately, all Uncle John's siblings (including my gran) have now passed, and their children are all too young to remember events so I have no direct source of information.

I have found this article very informative and heart warming. If anyone has any additional information on the events of that night and the actions taken by the villagers, I'd be extremely grateful.

Thank You so much

Wednesday, 11 July, 2012  

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