Wartime British bomber crew buried in Berlin
1 September 2005, BERLIN - Some 61 years after their Royal Air Force Halifax bomber was brought down over wartime Germany, the remains of the crew were buried with full military honours in Berlin Thursday.
1 September 2005
BERLIN - Some 61 years after their Royal Air Force Halifax bomber was brought down over wartime Germany, the remains of the crew were buried with full military honours in Berlin Thursday.
Family members of the deceased men flew from England to attend a special service at St. George's Church, and burial ceremony at the nearby British Commonwealth Cemetery in Berlin.
The Halifax LW 430 was one of 72 British wartime planes shot down over Germany on March 24, 1944, in one of the biggest RAF bombing raids of the war over Berlin. But it was not until two years ago that the destroyed bomber plane was discovered near Torgau, south of the capital.
All told, 1,000 wartime planes had taken part in the bombing raid which encountered unexpectedly strong winds over Germany that led to the formation deviating from its planned course.
RAF historians confirm that subsequently the attacking British bombers were involved in one of the fiercest air battles of World War II. German fighter planes rose to intercept the formation and there was fierce anti-aircraft fire, resulting in the second highest number of RAF casualties in the war.
The Halifax 430, which had taken off from a base in Leconfield in northern Yorkshire, was seen plunging to earth in flames, seconds before crashing in a field, some two hours' drive from Berlin.
The area was located in what later became East Germany. During the communist era no serious recovery efforts were ever made to locate missing Allied wartime planes, said an RAF spokesman.
But after the nation's 1989-90 unification, several volunteer German working parties were organised by its War Graves Commission, and detailed searches made in areas where RAF planes were known to have come down.
On September 27, 2003, Jens Beckler, a German war graves specialist, used a detector to discover the remains of the Halifax LW 430 buried in a field. In the wreckage were the remains of five of the plane's crew.
On Wednesday, relatives of the dead men travelled to Torgau to attend the unveiling of a plaque at the site where the Halifax came down. Herr Beckler accompanied them and later participated at a news conference they gave in Berlin.
"For the crew's British relatives it has been a moving occasion, knowing finally where their loved ones have been laid to rest," said Beckler.
A mystery surrounds the fate of the other two members of the crew. When the Halifax was hit by anti-aircraft fire local witnesses recalled seeing two bodies being hurled from the stricken plane, seconds before it crashed.
Their remains are believed to have been buried in Annaburg cemetery near Torgau, In May this year a plot was opened but no human remains were found in it. However the belief persists that the two men were buried locally.
The Halifax crew members named by the RAF were: Pilot Officer William McLeod (the pilot) from Glasgow, Sergeant Sidney W. Wheeler (bomb loader) from Bristol, Sgt John C. Burdett (radio operator) from Basildon, Essex, Sgt Angus P. Webb (flight engineer) from Whitstable in Kent, Sgt. Jack N. Boston (machine gunner) from Bideford, Devonshire and Sgt R.A.G. Turner (rear gunner) from Monks Risborough in Buckinghamshire, England.
Subject: German news