Gilze-En-Rijen (Gilze) Roman Catholic Cemetery, Netherlands.

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Continuing thanks to Philip for these images of the Scot crew, now resting in Gilze-En-Rijen (Gilze) Roman Catholic Cemetery,  Holland.

In the early hours of 27th of May 1944 18 Lancasters from 75(NZ) Squadron RAF took off to join a force of 162 Lancasters and 8 Mosquitoes to carry out a raid on the Rothe Erde railway yards, East of Aachen.

On the outbound flight, a number of the aircraft were intercepted by German night-fighters. One, Lancaster Mk.III ND915 AA-A, Captained by F/L Richard Berney was engaged a number of times by a fighter over Coutrai. ND908 was able to evade the attacker, however 2 other aircraft from the Squadron were not so lucky,  Lancaster Mk.III ND908 JN-M and  and Lancaster Mk.III ND802 JN-D

ND802 JN-D was attacked by a nachtjagd from the Fliegerhorst Gilze-Rijen, 25 miles North West of Eindhoven, causing the aircraft to break up in flight then crashing near Gilze, 6 miles West of Tilsburg. Five of the crew were able to exit the aircraft, but the  Pilot, Air bomber and Wireless Operator did not survive the crash and were buried at Gilze .

Sgt. Francis Alexander Jack Scott RNZAF NZ421105 – Pilot. Age 28
F/S Stephen Astley Cook RNZAF NZ421142 – Air Bomber. Age 21
Sgt Ronald Edward Howson RAFVR 1437112 – Wireless Operator. Age 21

The remainder of the crew survived, but either quickly, or eventually were caught and made Prisoners of War

W/O Ronald Thomas Clark RNZAF – NZ422369 – 2nd  Pilot
Prisoner of War No.770. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VII. Returned to United Kingdom 14th May 1945.

On repatriation to England W/O Clark was interrogated by MI-9 and this is a transcript of his interview regarding the shooting down of ND801 and his subsequent evasion and capture:

“We were shot down on 29 May 1944 on our way to bomb Aachen. I baled out and landed in a tree on the Dutch-Belgian border somewhere near Wasssau. I was wounded in my leg so I decided to rest a while and then head West. When I started walking I found I was cut-off by barbed-wire so I turned North with the same result. I turned East and came to more barbed-wire, and then North from there and met a road going North-West. I decided to take cover here so walked about half a mile from the barbed-wire and lay down in a wheat field. Two hours later I heard lots of Germans shouting.

I kept well covered and stayed there until midnight that night. I then headed West again and deciding to hunt for water came across a group of houses. Outside one of them I found a milk can with milk in it. I drank this and started out North again, ending up somewhere near Breda two night later. On 31 May I was seen by a civilian who spoke to me and took me to his house giving me food and drink and some wooden soled shoes. He told me to go down the Breda-Oostmalle road. So at about midnight that night I started off and reached the road next night. The following day I walked again and that night came to the border at crossed it quite easily at Strijbeck.

I spent a day hiding in a ditch by the road where I was seen by school children coming home from school. They all started shouting and pointing at me and then a little boy came up and pulled me by the hand and started running with me across a field and men came along shortly afterwards and gave me something to eat, telling me that they would go in search of someone in the Underground for me. They left the little boy and I crawled out of the ditch and hid behind some trees close-by as I was unsure of their intentions. However, half an hour later a man and a woman came back to the ditch. The woman spoke to me in English telling me that this man would hide me for one or two days and then put me in contact with the Underground. She said that she herself knew nothing about the Underground. I went along with them. The old man took me to his house where he and his wife hid me in the fowl house for two days.

On 4th June1944 he took me and hid me in a barn quite near his house. I slept there that morning and later the man returned with cycles and we cycled through some woods where we meet a woman who led us to her house. I stayed there for seven weeks trying all the time to make contact with the Underground through these people but every time something was arranged at the last moment plans had to be cancelled. Finally I decided that I must move and the next day a young man came and said he would take me to Antwerp. He took to a house of the man who was a member of the Underground and a Lieutenant in the Belgian artillery. I stayed there one week but had to leave in a hurry because the Germans were approaching.

We started wandering around Antwerp and went into a shop where I stayed that night and the next day. At about 18:00 hours that evening two German soldiers and a Gestapo agent came into the shop to hunt for me but I managed to hide in the cellars whilst they were upstairs.and then sneak out the back way. My guide was still with me and we started walking around Antwerp again for two hours when he took me back to the shop again as the Germans had disappeared by this time. I was then taken by my guide to the damaged hospital at Asheertogen where I stayed for three weeks. He then took me into Antwerp again to a shop where there were three old ladies in charge.

Next day another man came and told me that I should get over the border into France and join up with the British troops. He told me exactly how it was going to be done and that we would have to go to the park in Antwerp where we would meet a man who would make arrangements for crossing the border. We walked along to the park in Antwerp and met this man who spoke English with an American accent. He took me to an apartment house in Antwerp where I was interrogated about people who had helped me.

I thought that this suspicious and later my suspicions were confirmed as I was led into an office by this English speaking man and confronted by the Gestapo. I was taken to Antwerp Civil Prison by a couple of S.S. men where I stayed from 23rd August to 4th September. Then we were marched out of Antwerp to Rotterdam, and left there the next morning for Bocholt. I was imprisoned at Bocholt to 6th September; Dulag Luft (Frankfurt) 8th to 14th September; Bankau 20th September 1944 to 19th January 1945. I was liberated by Russian forces on 22nd April 1945.”

F/S Leslie George HIll RNZAF NZ426997 – Navigator
Prisoner of War No.170. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VII. Promoted to W/O while a PoW. Returned to United Kingdom 25th May 1945.

Sgt Frederick Maxwell Harris RAFVR 1850150F – Flight Engineer
Attempted to evade but was betrayed and captured in Antwerp 28th June 1944. Prisoner of War No.300. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VII.

Sgt. Alan Mantle RAFVR 925315 – Mid Upper Gunner
Prisoner of War No.469. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VII.

Sgt. Reginald Dale RAFVR 1818763 – Rear Gunner
Prisoner of War camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VII.

5 thoughts on “Gilze-En-Rijen (Gilze) Roman Catholic Cemetery, Netherlands.

  1. a gray

    W/O Ronald Thomas Clark RNZAF says he was liberated by Russian forces in April 1945. I have often wondered how these men were treated by the Russians and how they were repatriated. That is to say, how long did it take for their repatriation and what route did their repatriation take? Was it by land, sea or air?

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    1. David McFarland

      Most were taken to Odessa and then transferred home by boat, but the whole position in relation to Allied POWs is part of a rather murky saga. Many were held as pawns in Stalin’s plan to force the Allies to send back the millions of Soviet citizens (and some non-Soviet citizens) that were in Allied occupied territory at the end of war. Some POWs were to spend many years in the Gulags, including one captured at Arnhem who returned in the 1950s to be charged with going AWOL!

      W/O Clark would appear to be one of the lucky ones.

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      1. a gray

        That is very interesting. I vaguely remember talking to someone over 40 years ago who told me that he had been liberated from a POW camp in eastern Germany/western Poland. He said he had traveled all the way from there in an open truck to the Crimea where he was put on a ship for home.

        Do you know of a website or a blog that covers the repatriation of Allied troops liberated from POW camps by the Russians?

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  2. David McFarland

    I suppose you can google it, but who knows what will come up as there has been a lot of speculation similar to the American POWs in Vietnam and Laos, and the internet, no doubt, will be full of it. There is a book called ‘The Iron Cage’ which deals with the topic of Allied POWs held after the War by the Soviets. I remember a figure of 30,000 being mentioned as a possible number.

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  3. aviationtrails

    This is a fascinating account of one mans struggle for survival and ultimate betrayal. The frustration and desperation they must have felt during these difficult times would be overwhelming. I spend a little time in this region and know Tilburg and Breda well. I have come across several monuments commemorating battles and river crossings but no airforce memorials as yet. This adds more of the human element to those and I shall certainly look for them when next there.

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