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Lest we forget!

Ben Goossens 2005

The following research by my good friend Ben Goossens of Bergen-op-Zoom, Netherlands details the final hours and subsequent loss of Lancaster BIII PB303 ZN-R and crew on November 1st 1944

This page also available in Dutch. Click Here

e-mail pa3dwe.ben@home.nl

 

At 14.05 hours on November 1st 1944 a bomber with it's seven man crew, took off from Metheringham Airfield near Lincoln, together with 19 other aircraft, for a raid on Homburg in Germany. The aircraft was PB303, a Lancaster Mk III from 106 Squadron coded ZN-R .

 

Crew of PB303

 
   

The Crew of PB303

   
         

Pilot: Flying Officer F/O George Jeffrey Symes, RCAF (27) from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Navigator: Sgt Cyril Ernest Bayliss, (22) Son of Harold & Ellen Bayliss from Redditch Worcestershire

Flight Engineer: Sgt Alfred F. Harris, (24) Son of Hyman & Rose Harris and husband of Kate Harris from Hatch End Middlesex

W/Op/AG: Flying Officer Lesley W. Perry, (22) Son of William & Alice Perry & husband of Josselyn Irene Perry from Taunton Somerset

Air Gunner: Sgt. Clifford Eugene Leroy Cook. RCAF, (19) Son of James & Eva L. Cook from Belleville, Ontario Canada

Air Gunner: Sgt. John Anthony Crisp, (19) Son of Ernest & Bessie Crisp from Harrow Middlesex

Air Bomber: Flying Officer John Arthur Smith, (20) Son of Arthur P. & Lilian Smith from West Ewell Surrey

 

Over the target area, PB303 was seen to leave the formation and dive into the clouds. A photograph was taken at the moment the Lancaster left the formation. It is clearly visible that its bomb doors are open, the port outer engine is missing and there is damage to the fuselage.

 
   
PB303 Leaving the formation
 

The crew must have dropped their bombs and turned back in the direction of their base. About three quarters of an hour later, this aircraft was observed near the town of Bergen op Zoom and it was on fire. It crashed close to a little village of Lepelstraat in the Southern part of the Netherlands at about 17.00h local time. The whole crew lost their lives. The Lancaster hit the ground in a meadow just alongside a small country road called “Heenweg” (Pos. N 5132’56.3’’  E 00415’34.7’’) near to a farm which at that time belonged to Mr. Schot.

   

PB303 Leaving the formation

                   

 

Recovery of the crew was not easy and due to difficulty identifying their bodies, six were buried together in a collective grave at the Canadian War Cemetery near Bergen op Zoom. Witnesses have told me, there was a ceremony at the site of the crash on November 23rd 1944.

It took some months to clear away the debris and even today you can still find small metal parts there. I have recently been informed that there are still some engines buried deep in the soft clay.

   

   
 

After the war had ended, people from Holland were able to adopt the graves of those gallant warriors who lost their lives to liberate their country. In this way they were able to express their gratitude for their regained freedom and also give some comfort to the relatives. The adoptions were organised by the Dutch Wargraves Committee and someone who adopted a grave had to take care of it just as if it was of someone from his or her own family. They had to put flowers on the grave at remembrance ceremonies and were also able to write to the family of this person. They also had to help to organise an opportunity for parents or wives to visit the grave. My mother, Mrs Jane Goossens was one of the many who adopted several of the graves.

You couldn’t choose which graves you adopted, graves were appointed randomly by a Committee and by coincidence my mother got the graves from the crew of this Lancaster to take care of.

   

Grave Adoption Certificate

Certificate of Grave Adoption

 
 

My mother started writing to the families and even hosted some of them later when they came over to Holland to visit the grave of their husband or son. Mrs. Goossens couldn't speak English,  because she never had the opportunity to learn it when she was at school. Therefore she first had to write her letter in Dutch, and pass it to a neighbour who translated it for her, she then copied the translated letters herself. This was quite some work. Her neighbour also translated the letters she received. When I was about 18 years old, I had learned some English myself, so I was then able to do the translations for her.

 

 

I can remember some visits from relatives, but as I was only 4 or 5 years of age then, my memory isn't very clear about it. For instance I still can remember the visit by the widow of Sgt Harris. She stayed at our home whilst she was in Holland and my mother accompanied her to the cemetery several times. Also Mrs Smith and Mrs Perry stayed at our home . Both mothers lost their sons during the war.

                                       
Flying Officer John Smith

John Smith

  My mother kept in touch with several of the relatives for a very long time, but after many years, contact sadly faded away or even stopped altogether. Only Mrs Perry kept writing, until her daughter took over the contact with my mother and kept in touch for a very long time. After a while this daughter handed over these contacts in turn to her own daughter. This daughter is still writing to the family.
                                 

When my mother had to move to an elderly people’s home (this was in 1990), she asked me if I would take over the correspondence on her behalf. So I wrote to the niece of F/O Perry (on the photograph) and also a few of my mothers other English friends. I told them I would be acting as go-between for my mother, who later had to move to a nursing home.

 

Flight Sgt Alfred Harris and wife Katie

F/Sgt Harris with his wife Katie

 
 
 

I have to say that these contacts always were very friendly and all those friends of my mother also became very dear friends of my wife and myself. When my mother passed away (in 1992) I had to inform those friends and they all felt very sad at losing a dear friend, but everyone kept in touch with me. So now I still write to FO Perry's niece, Mrs. Sheila Burnett, from Taunton and she has also become a dear friend of ours.

   

 
    Until 1999 I knew nothing about the history of this aircraft. But one summer evening, while we were on vacation near Hull, I spoke via my amateur radio station, to a former Spitfire Pilot from Hull, Mr Gordon Rutherford. In this conversation I told him about the crew whose graves my mother had adopted. I told him, I had inherited, in a matter of speaking, these adoptions and therefore I was curious to know more details about that aircraft. I even didn’t know which type of aircraft it was. I could only remember a photograph on my mother’s cupboard. On it there was a crew in front of their machine, but unfortunately, that photograph was lost a long time ago.
                                   
 
   

He asked me to send him the details, so he could do some research for me. He answered, a few months later and told me the aircraft was a Mark III Lancaster and he also gave me most of the details you can read at the beginning of this document. According to his details, the site of the crash was “Steenbergen Zuid Holland 8 km Northwest from Roosendaal”. I was very pleased with the data he found and for me it was enough.

   

 

In August 2000 I received a letter from Mr Gordon Smith, who was a cousin of F/O John Smith (see photograph). He told me, he obtained my address from Mrs Sheila Burnett and he asked me if I could help him to get more details about the crash, such as the exact location of the crash and also who now tends the grave of his cousin. This was the reason I began my research. First I spoke a historian from the town of Steenbergen. I asked him if he could tell me ecxactly where this aircraft had crashed. He told me about the crash of Guy Gibson and his navigator Jim Warwick's Mosquito which was shot down near Steenbergen on September 19th 1944. The people of Steenbergen erected a monument for them with, as a main object, a propeller from a Lancaster that crashed near Monnickendam.

The crash of this Mosquito was about 6 weeks before the Canadian forces liberated my hometown of Bergen op Zoom.

 

Gordon Smith & Wife

Arthur & Lillian Smith

 
 
 

This historian also told me, according to his knowledge no Lancaster had crashed in his hometown at all. So I had to search further. The next day I went to the city archives in Bergen op Zoom and there I read archived newspapers from those days. I learned a lot about the liberation of Bergen op Zoom, which was on October 27th, but after a few hours of searching I still hadn’t found anything about a crash involving this Lancaster. You must remember that it was just a few days after the liberation and for a while there was a shortage of everything, including paper to print on. Therefore newspapers were much smaller in those days than they used to be and much of its space then was occupied with messages from the military authorities. I think that's the reason this crash was not important enough to get published. I nearly gave up, until I spoke to Mr Vanweesenbeeck who is the town archives master.

Flight Sgt Cyril Bayliss

 

He told me there was a portfolio in the archives written by Mr. Van Hoof. In this portfolio I found out more details about the crash. Once I knew the exact location, I contacted a number of people about the crash and was able to find several eyewitnesses including a lady who is the daughter of the farmer who lived near the crash site. She wasn’t at home when the crash happened, but upon her return she saw a most horrible sight. Now (in August 2000) her daughter is living in the same farmhouse. One of the eyewitnesses told me about the front-line. It was about the place where the wreck of this plane was.  Not very far from this crash site there still were some Germans, who were covering the retreat of the German Army, a few of them came towards the wreckage, but retreated when a Canadian Jeep appeared.

Cyril Bayliss

                                 

A few days later, on November 4th there was an accident near to the crash site, when a Canadian jeep hit a mine and both occupants lost their life there too.

 

 

My hope is that this story helps to remember all those who gave everything for our freedom today. Not only those who actually lost their lives, but I think we must also remember the sorrow of all those mothers, wives and children.

Therefore, I hope we have never to see this kind of madness again.

   

 
 

I started to write this report in August 2000 and I’ve learned that it will never be completed, because we shall never know what exactly happened inside this aircraft before it crashed.

   

 
November 2000.

Ben Goossens                                     

Supplement,

 
   

Sgt Clifford Cook

 

The story above was published (in Dutch) in a local newspaper here in Holland on December 3rd 2000.

At that time it was already known that besides F/O Perry's niece and a cousin of F/O Smith, there was also a brother of Sgt. Clifford Cook. This brother responded to an advertisement in a legionnaires magazine (issue May/June 2000) in Canada and wrote to Mr. Gordon Smith.

 

Clifford Cook

                                 
 
 
 

Click image to view full size

Article reproduced by kind permission of Redditch Advertiser

 

He told him he was in the Canadian Army during the war and had joined the allied forces on D-day in Normandy. All his brothers were in the services. One of them was, like him serving in the Royal Canadian Artillery, another was in the Navy and his youngest brother was in the Royal Canadian Air Force, because he was not old enough yet to join the army. Mr. Gordon Smith forwarded me a copy of this letter.

A brother in law of F/O George Symes read the same advertisement, handed over by a neighbour in November 2000. After this, George Symes' sister wrote to Mr. Smith.

 

Flying Officer George Symes

George Symes

 

He was very surprised to hear that this pilot also had a daughter. He wrote back to her and he also sent her the crash details we have. The pilot's family didn’t know exactly where and how their brother died. They thought it was Hamburg where he crashed with his aircraft, but we found out he was shot up over Homburg (near Duisburg in Germany) and he finally crashed near Bergen op Zoom in Holland. Geordie (as his family called him) met his wife Sheena for the first time on a Halloween Dance on their high school.

After her graduation Sheena moved to Toronto. Geordie joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in the fall of 1939 and was posted to a base near Toronto. There he met Sheena again and they married in Toronto on February 2nd 1940. He was ground crew first, but he remustered to aircrew. He took his basic training in eastern Canada and later undertook pilot training in Manitoba. From that time Sheena lived with Geordie’s family in Winnipeg. Sheena wasn’t able to attend Geordie’s graduation as a Pilot in July 1943, because she was expecting the birth of their child –Geraldine- born August 17th 1943. Geordie was posted overseas on August 3rd 1943, so he never met his daughter. Sheena and Gerri (short for Geraldine) continued to live with Geordie’s family for several years after Geordie’s death, until Sheena joined a friend in Alberta.

Sheena finally died in July 1999. On 22 June 2001 Gerri visited Bergen op Zoom and interred the her mothers ashes into her father's grave

I have reproduced the family story in this supplement from a letter of Mrs Gene Olson, who is a sister of F/O George Symes.

With this story I honour and salute the crew-members and their families because now I know, there was so much sorrow in families that lost their husbands, sons or even their fathers.

   

   

June 2003

An article was published in the Metheringham Newsletter, an old friend of pilot F/O George Symes read it and sent me a letter. He told about his flying course and his friendship with George Symes and his family. He also sent me a few photographs of himself and his mates taken at the time he was studying for his wing in Canada.

 

Trainees at Manitoba

Trainees at Manitoba

   
 
Class 78D Red at Souris  

He first meet George Symes there and they often visited the Symes family when they could get a leave permit. He sent me a copy of a photograph of the graduates on Wings Parade day (July 1943) in Souris Manitoba

   
 

 

 

November 2003

Other aircraft from 106 squadron which crashed in Holland.

10 April 1941 Hampden X3148 ZN-E Near Ittervoort (Province of Limburg)
10 April 1941 Hampden X3153 ZN-? Near Helden (Province of Limburg)
27 July 1942 Lancaster R5748 ZN-R Shot down near to Rottevalle ( province of Friesland)

The pilot from this aircraft was SL Francis Harold Robertson DFC  ((Mentioned as Robbo in  the book ”Enemy coast ahead” by Guy Gibson))

20 December 1942 Lancaster R5697 ZN-J Near Monnickendam a few miles North of Amsterdam. (Pilot Sgt George Stewart Anderson)
13 May 1943 Lancaster R5611 ZN-D At Rossum (Province of Gelderland)
15 June 1943 Lancaster R5551 ZN-V At Roozendaal near Arnhem (Province of Gelderland)
09/07/42 Lancaster R5861 ZN-? Into Sea off Ameland
17/09/42 Lancaster W4178 ZN-? Into Sea off Dutch Coast
16/10/42 Lancaster W4195 ZN-W Heteren, near Valburg (Gelderland)
21/12/42 Lancaster R5697 ZN-J Oudelandsdijk No5,(Island of Great Noody) Monnickenmeer-Polder, Monnickendam (Nord Holland)

A Propellor blade from this Lancaster is now atop the Gibson / Warwick memorial in Steenbergen

14/01/43 Lancaster R5680 ZN-T At Hoogsoeren
28/01/43 Lancaster R5637 ZN-D Linne (Limburg)
30/03/43 Lancaster ED596 ZN-H Lievelde (Gelderland)
28/05/43 Lancaster W4842 ZN-H At Lakerpolder in Kagerplassen near Warmond
26/06/43 Lancaster EE125 ZN-? Into Sea 50km WNW of Den Helder
26/06/43 Lancaster R5572 ZN-M Baak (Gelderland)
26/06/43 Lancaster W4256 ZN-V Hippolytushoef (Noord Holland)
26/06/43 Lancaster W4367 ZN-? Ijsselmeer 20km NW of Harderwijk
28/07/43 Lancaster ED708 ZN-? Into North Sea off frisian Islands
31/01/44 Lancaster ND336 ZN-Q North Sea
22/06/44 Lancaster LL955 ZN-E Oosterwolde
22/06/44 Lancaster LM570 ZN-Z Rossum (Province of Gelderland)

 

Update 2006

In May 2006, I received an e-mail message from a young family member of the Canadian rear-gunner Sgt Clifford Cook.

She had found this website and had read the story above. I was very surprised about her reaction. On my request she did send me a photograph and a scanned certificate which were related to the attempt of Clifford Cook's application to join the army. This confirmed the fact, given by his older brother that he was too young for the army, but after a while he was enlisted for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

At this time both Mr. Gordon Smith and I, still believe we could trace relatives of mid-upper gunner, Sergeant John Crisp.

But I am convinced, that by chance, we will one day get more details.

B.G. May 2006

 
Update 2007
 
Well in June 2007 it happened- completely by chance as I thought it might!

A great niece of Sgt John Crisp did contact me, because she had also read the story above. She told me in short about her great uncle.

So I quote her:

John and his twin sister Audrey were born on 21st March 1925. John was educated at Greenhill Elementary School and then John Lyon School in Harrow, London. John worked briefly in an administration job in a London Hospital, before being drafted. He and Audrey were the youngest of the family. His brother Basil (my grandfather) was born in 1917 and died in 1999, his sister Mary was born in 1919 and unfortunately died in 1945, Peter was born in 1923 and died in 2006. Both Basil and Peter were also in the Royal Air Force during the war. 

I mentioned further above, this story can never be complete, because what exactly happened in the aircraft after it was hit over Homberg, can’t be told.

The search to find out what happened was one, where many small and big coincidences came together.

I hope this story will be read for a long time, because these men and the sorrows of their family deserve to be remembered.

Ben Goossens, June 2007

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