My mother kept in touch with several of the relatives for a very long time, but after many years, contacts 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 Sheila. She is still writing to the family.
When my mother had to move to home for elderly people (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 and also a few of my mothers other English friends. I told them I would be acting as go-
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 then, it was enough.
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 from Aylesbury. He was a cousin of F/O John Smith. 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.
Arthur & Lillian Smith
Parents from FO John 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.
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-
A few days later, on November 3th there was an accident near to the crash site, when a Canadian jeep hit a mine and both occupants lost their life there too.
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.
The first section of this report was published; November 2000.
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.
He told him he was in the Canadian Army during the war and had joined the allied forces on D-
Sgt Clifford Cook
A brother in law of F/O George Symes did read the same advertisement, handed over by a neighbour in November 2000. After this, George Symes' sister wrote to Mr. Smith.
He was very surprised to hear, 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) did meet his wife Sheena for the first time on a Halloween Dance on their high school.
Pilot FO George Symes