Part II of our incredible journey to Friesland

On the morning of the 7th June at around 10-00am Douwe and Alexander arrived at the hotel to walk us around to the local archives where they had a small exhibition about the Air War above Friesland Province. It was in the same square as the Leeuwarden Tower that leans so strangely. There were a number of interesting items but the one that caught my attention was a framed display of ‘windows’… the foil strips that were dropped by the RAF to jam the radar signals of the Germans so that they couldn’t follow the path of the planes and what destination they might be aiming for. I’d always wondered what these looked like and it was amazing to see how small they were.

Holland trip 2016 021

The leaning Tower of Leeuwarden

After we’d seen that we went back to the hotel for a little while and Douwe asked me if I’d give an interview to a reporter from the Leeuwarden Courant, the local newspaper, about dad. Naturally, I agreed. The reporter wrote so quickly that I wondered later if he’d be able to read his own writing! (He did, apparently, as the article appeared in the paper the following day… pity I forgot to buy one.)

Holland trip 2016 060

Window – the foil strips used by the Allied airmen – dropped to jam the radar of the Germans.

The weather was glorious and very warm when Douwe and Alexander shepherded us to a small coach and we were on our way to Blije, the village closest to the site of the crash. We were taken to the local community centre and in the foyer was a scale model of the Short Stirling with the number and code MG-J… the same as the one they were flying that night.  I was amazed to find that a large group of local villagers were present to hear and see a presentation given by Alexander Tuinhout about the operation, the crew, the shooting down of their plane and what happened both before and after their capture.

In the audience were a group of local school children of about 10 years of age. The presentation was all in English but everyone seemed interested and I wondered if the children also understood what it was about. Two of the children later stood up and came to the microphone – they had written a poem about the war and were asked to read it out. They did – in English! I was very impressed by them and the rest of the children who had, apparently, been doing a project about the war with their teacher at school.Girls reading poem Blije

Stepping out into the sunshine afterwards we were astounded to see three military vehicles from the period bearing flags of Britain, Canada and the USA come wheeling into the car parking area. In addition there was a rather splendid Citroen from the early 1920s. These military vehicles that arrive at Blija belong to “Keep them Rollin'”…an organisation that is spread all over the Netherlands to preserve the old army vehicles from the 2nd world war.

People piled into all these vehicles and we set off in convoy to our next destination to the unveiling of the commemorative panel.  It was a grand sight to see the vehicles on the move and some of the locals must have wondered what was happening… although there must be a group of fairly local people who collect and restore these vehicles who probably attend a variety of functions dedicated to WWII.

The unveiling itself was quite low-key – introduced by Hans Groeneweg and with the unveiling performed by the Deputy Mayor of Ferwerd. Everyone was eager to see the panel and we took our turns to have a look and I mentally congratulated the designer for the amount of detail it contained. I couldn’t read much of it, unfortunately, as it is in Dutch.Leeuwarder Courant page 1 June 2016 I saw lots of photos being taken with various groups of people and had one taken with Hille for the article that would be written in the Leeuwarder Courant…and Hille was smiling broadly!

After communicating with each other since 2009 it was lovely to actually meet him and to have our photograph taken together was wonderful. When Hille sent my father the flying helmet all those years ago he unwittingly set off a train of events culminating on this very day: my search for the Henigman family after finding out that the helmet belonged to Frank Henigman  and Hille’s enthusiasm for researching WWII planes in people in the Friesland area;  deciding that dad’s manuscript was too interesting to keep to ourselves so getting the book published; the resulting contact with Ger Boogmans and then the SMAMF all took place over a number of years. Searching for and contacting all the families of the airmen was a wonderful piece of detective work by all of us but it was saddening to find out that some didn’t want to be a part of all of this and some were unable to come because of health or financial constraints. However, the families of four of the men were proudly represented on the occasion and I hope that I’m not being too presumptive when I say that it seemed that we all felt a strong common bond despite having never met before.

The unveiling over we travelled back to Blije and the community hall where we sat down to coffee and homemade cakes and chatted with local members of the community. I was able to thank the two girls and spoke to the mother of one of them who told me that the children had been working hard on the WWII project with their teacher at school. The hall was buzzing with friendly conversation and I was amazed at just how many people spoke English so that conversation was easy.  I’m sure that everyone agreed that it had been a wonderful occasion and the hospitality of the locals was amazing…I thanked some of them at the time but I hope that some will soon be able to read this and will know that we thoroughly enjoyed our time with them and their generous hospitality will be remembered by all of us.

At this point one would have thought that the day would have ended…but no!

Our party was now taken to Ferwerd and the Town Hall that used to also house the local police station with the Head of Police, Romke Smidt. The Deputy Mayor told us that this was the place in which our fathers were taken, after realising there was no hope of escape because the Gestapo knew they were there, and they were taken down into the cells below the building.

Leaving the Town Hall we climbed back onto the coach and were taken along a route to show us the area in which some of the men, including dad, landed with their parachutes. Harry pointed out how the land isn’t the same now as it was then – land has been reclaimed since that time. I realised how open the area was, though, and how the downed airmen must have felt so vulnerable as there was nowhere to hide!

Onwards our journey took us to a lovely restaurant at the side of one of the waterways and enjoyed a wonderful Dutch meal as guests of SMAMF. We were able to have drinks outside in the warm evening, too. The food was delicious, our companions convivial and our day couldn’t have been better! To underline our thanks for all the efforts of those involved Richard Earngey made a speech of thanks about how it had affected him, I added a few words of thanks and Mac rounded it all off with his thanks and thoughts about everything we’d experienced.

As it was now about 9-00pm or so we once more climbed into the waiting coach and were taken back to our hotel in Leeuwarden, Mac and his wife left separately by car to Amsterdam and Ger and his guest, Terry Jones, also left to travel back to Amsterdam where they live.

At the hotel a few of us, including Douwe and Alexander, sat and enjoyed a drink reviewing the day and the activities of the Foundation… a perfect end to a perfect day!

Hans Groeneweg, is the Chairman of the SMAMF and also the Director of the Resistance Museum. 

None of this could have taken place, however,  without the financial assistance of private donations, one of which by a ‘Mr X’ was sufficiently large enough to make the erection of the panel possible. In addition, the municipality of Ferwerderadiel and SMAMF also made donations to the project. 

 

Posted in Dad, Of Stirlings and Stalags: an air-gunner's tale, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Harry Feenstra’s Mapped Story of the Night of 7 June 1942…

This time last year Harry Feenstra sent me a wonderful map of the area in which dad’s plane came down… it tells in pictorial form of the events of that day (before dawn initially) of what happened to the crew.

Map of Friesland area of downed aircraft W.7471 Short Stirling MG-J

Harry Feenstra’s pictorial map

At the time I put it on this blog but a friend, Ger Boogmans, asked if I’d keep it off the blog because the SMAMF group were working towards a plan for the 7 Jun 2016 and he didn’t want to give the game away. I removed it… but I’m pleased to be able to put it back up here again so that folk can see it and can understand what happened to the men after they’d bailed out of their stricken aircraft.

Holland trip 2016 067

Harry Feenstra (left) talks with John Macnamara, son of ‘Mac’

Posted in Dad, Of Stirlings and Stalags: an air-gunner's tale, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Memorable Journey…

On Sunday 5th June Tony and I climbed aboard the plane that would take us to Amsterdam, Holland – en route to a place that has become very significant to me over the past few years.

We stayed overnight in Amsterdam meeting Ger Boogmans and having a memorable drinking session and conversation for a few hours. Ger is the representative  of the Bomber Command Association The Netherlands and although we’d been in contact for some time this was our first actual meeting. I don’t think either of us was disappointed in the other and Tony and Ger also hit it off straight away.

The following lunchtime we boarded a train bound for Leeuwarden where we’d be staying for a couple of nights and upon arrival checked in and realised that another group of three folk who were checking in, too, were some more folk who’d come on this pilgrimage to Leeuwarden and our destination on the following day. We introduced ourselves to Richard, Joyce and Paul Earngey who had flown from Australia to be there. Richard’s father was Ted Earngey, the navigator on the crew of W7471 the night that she was shot from the sky in 1942.  We said we’d see them later and dumped our bags deciding to explore the area for the afternoon.

We weren’t disappointed… the place is both historic and beautiful. The Leeuwarden tower dates back to the 16th century, I believe, and leans at a precarious angle not quite rivalling the rather more famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Further exploration revealed an old school, ancient almshouses, an old Jewish School and other beautiful buildings that have been preserved with care and obvious pride. I’d like to have spent longer there wandering through the by-ways but we knew that back at the hotel that evening we were going to meet some very special people.

At the appointed hour people started to arrive, Linda Macnamara, the daughter of Sidney Macnamara the flight engineer, the Earngey family came to join us, Mary Ghrist – from the Stirling Aircraft Society, and much, much later the large party of nine of Andrew Tayler, son of the pilot Norman ‘Buck’ Tayler with his sisters and various sons and in-laws.

Before they arrived Douwe Drijver, Alexander Tuinhout, Hille Oppedijk, Harry Feenstra and Sietse Kuiper walked into the lounge and introduced themselves to us all. Douwe explained what would be happening the following day, Alexander provided more details and Hille brought gifts for everyone and told us how honoured he was to meet with us all! We felt humbled by this… surely, they were the men who kept the memories of our fathers and men like them alive for the current generation who have only heard about what the allied forces did during that dark time. They formed and  belong to the Stitchting Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation who work tirelessly to honour the men.

In another post I’ll write about what happened on the following day… for now you can meet the folk who made that day so memorable.

Holland trip 2016 058

Left to Right: Alexander Tuinhout, Douwe Drijver and Linda Mawby, daughter of ‘Mac’ Macnamara the flight engineer.

Holland trip 2016 072

Members of the Tayler family… with Andrew on the right standing.

Holland trip 2016 064

Andrew Tayler, son of Norman ‘Buck’ Tayler the pilot of W7471 MG-J Short Stirling

Holland trip 2016 135

Harry Feenstra (left) and Hille Oppedijk

Holland trip 2016 073

Joyce Earngey and son, Paul

Holland trip 2016 053

Richard Earngey, son of Ted Earngey (standing), with Sietse Kuiper.

Posted in Family History, Of Stirlings and Stalags: an air-gunner's tale, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Putting the record straight…

It’s been pointed out to me that I’ve got ‘Johnny’ Travis’s nationality wrong… so I’m putting the record straight here. He was known as ‘The Dapper Rhodesian’ by most people in his unit and later in Stalag Luft III.

His full name was Frank St. John Travis and he was born in England, originally, in the Edmonton area of Middlesex on 24 Sep 1915. At the age of 11 he and the family moved to Rhodesia, not South Africa. It was from here, at the outbreak of war, that he ‘joined up’ by travelling back to England and enlisting with the RAF.

So, after being shot down on 7 June 1942 Johnny went to Stalag Luft III along with Bill and the others – although whilst some were moved on to other camps he stayed and became an important member of the ‘Escape Committee’ although he declined to actually take part in the actual escape. A wise decision in hindsight. He and others made a variety of items to aid the escapers – compasses out of old Bakelite gramophone records, for example. He had, apparently been a mining engineer before the war, and possibly was able to contribute to the tunnelling in terms of advice.

Post- war he was an estate agent for a while, then a car dealer, later he opened a luggage shop that he ran with his wife. He died in Weymouth, Dorset in 1978.

His son, Peter, wrote:

“Before the war my father had trophies for Rifle shooting and body building which were all left all packed away in Rhodesia when he went back to England and he never went back for them.

After the war my father started a Real Estate business in Essex with my uncle, but because of his interest in motor cars became a car salesman  in London, later we moved to Exeter in Devon and he became manager of a prestige car company before buying a luggage shop that he ran with my mother until his death at age 63.”

I don’t suppose that my father knew that Johnny was living back in the UK after the war…if he had known I’m sure that he would have made contact with him.

In these days of the internet tracking down people is relatively simple…back in the 60s, 70s and 80s this wasn’t so easy. By the time my father was was writing his memoirs in the 90s he was just about getting to grips with a laptop rather than a typewriter and the internet wasn’t something he used comfortably.

Such a shame… I think I’d like to have ‘met’ the other crew-members, in the flesh or via the internet, because I’m sure they would have all had good tales to tell about their lives and their connection through 7 Squadron, the Short Stirling W.7471 MG-J and Stalag Luft III!

 

Stirling  MG-J Winter 1941 or 1942

Mk 1 Short Stirling MG-J (W.7471) Winter 1941/2 at Oakington, home of 7 Squadron

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I think George ‘Johnny’ Johnson is right…

It was niggardly and churlish not to award medals to Bomber Command veterans…and I’m not just biased because dad was one of those brave men. So many were lost, so many took to the skies night after night courting death or disability or capture in defence of our country… which is not to diminish servicemen and women from other branches of the armed forces…but to state clearly how important their efforts were. This article states his views clearly:

Cheltenham Literature Festival

The Last British Dambuster – Johnny Johnson.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

New additions to the Australian Archives…

Yesterday I was contacted by Ger Boogmans, the archivist for Bomber Command based in Amsterdam. We regularly contact each other via the Private Message system on the Facebook website.

He asked me if my father used to live at an address on Milson Road, Cremorne Point, Sydney, Australia and I was able to tell him that, yes, he lived there with Betty Earngey, the widow of Ted Earngey (the navigator in dad’s crew) on W.7471 Short Stirling MG-J in 7 Squadron.

How did Ger know about this? I wondered, because I’d never told him the address… just the fact that he’d lived in Sydney.

It turns out that Ger had been in contact with the Australian War Museum in his search on members of the crew and they’d told him that the new people in the unit/house where Betty used to live found photographs (and perhaps other items) and delivered them to the museum!!

I am intrigued to know what they were/are as I know that dad was unable to return to Sydney after his final trip back to the UK as he had a heart attack at the wheel of his car and wasn’t allowed to fly back. He’d lived in Australia for about 16 years at that point and it was more than likely that he’d left items and documents in the house that he might not have got back again… things such as photos and documents. Additionally, Betty would have had similar items related to Ted and it may be that these were all delivered together! Presumably their son, Richard, had to clear out the flat prior to its sale and thought the best thing to do was to send the stuff to the museum for posterity and safe-keeping.

So, Ger is in the process of finding out what those photos are and whether they will throw further light on Ted and dad’s experiences during the war. So, I await Ger’s next contact explaining what he’s managed to find out about the material that was donated. Knowing that the material is saved is wonderful…but I’m dying to know what the photos reveal.

Armed with the address I decided to look on Google earth/maps to have a look at the area in which dad stayed for all those years… the marvels of modern technology! I thought that readers might like to see the view from the window that dad saw every day… the house looked down on Sydney Harbour! I remember dad telling me about his binoculars, kept on the window ledge, so that he could view anything of interest in the bay. And it would have been from these windows that he saw the huge bush fires that raged in 1993/4 in the Blue Mountains…and had to go outside to douse the wooden window frames in water using the hose-pipe so that they wouldn’t catch fire!! They could feel the heat in Sydney and there were, no doubt, fatalities.

The view from their window was wonderful… it would certainly encourage anyone to get up early!! harbour from Cremorne point

 

 

Posted in Dad, Family History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Eve of War…

In September 1939 Britain prepared for war…and decided to take a register of everyone living at the time…later this information would form the basis of the National Health Service in 1948. It was a working record and was updated as the years went by… for example, women’s maiden names being replaced by their married names when they wed.

Dad was living in Maidstone with his parents and younger brother, Ronald, his father working as a boot shop manager in the centre of Maidstone. My grandfather worked in the shop until his death at the age of 65 in 1958, although my grandmother went on to live until 1978 when she was 80… still living in the same house.

Dad was working at a cycle and radio manufacturer in Maidstone as a ledger clerk, and was then 17 years old. His younger brother, Ron, was just 15 and probably still at school. Bill at french window - Copy

The photo shows him about 16/17 years old sitting at the French windows of the house on St Philip’s Avenue, Maidstone. He looks so young…but about two years later he was to enlist in the RAF and put himself in the firing-line as an air-gunner in Bomber Command.

William Goodman 1939

Here is his entry in the 1939 register…he was at the top of the page with his parents at the bottom of the previous page and his brother still blacked out for privacy reasons due to his birth year.

Little did they then know that both Bill and Ron would make it through that war and that their parents, Arthur and Lavinia, would not get bombed out of their home during the terrible bombing of the early war.

And, thankfully, because of that… I’m here to tell his story!

Posted in Dad, Family History, Of Stirlings and Stalags: an air-gunner's tale, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment