February 3, 2018. In July 2017, the County Line Courier published a story about PEI Pilot Elmer Bagnall Muttart (See CLC July 19 p20 WWII Pilot Saved Dutch Village), whose name is listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion. This blog had two previous entries about him. (See The Elmer Bagnall Muttart Story and The Media Interview With CBC ). This blog entry is about our visit to his grave at Harlingen General Cemetery in The Netherlands.
Elmer Bagnall MUTTART, born March 14, 1918 in Cape Traverse, son of Louis (Lewis) Muttart and Annie Bagnall, was an RCAF pilot assigned to the 10th Operational Training Unit in England in March 1941, where he trained to fly a Whitley, a twin-engine medium bomber. On May 19, 1941 he was transferred to the 78th Squadron at the air base in Middleton St. George and had 20 successful flights in enemy territory as either co-pilot or pilot. On September 24, 1941 he transferred to the 76th Squadron for retraining to fly the new four engine Halifax plane, a heavy bomber.
On October 12, 1941, with his regular navigator Reg ALEXANDER and six other crew members, Muttart began his 21st mission into enemy territory. The crew members of Halifax L9561 were:
- Pilot – F/S Elmer Bagnall MUTTART (age 23)
- Co-Pilot – P/O Norman Frank TRAYLER (age 21)
- Flight Engineer – Sgt David COTSELL (age 21)
- Bomb Aimer – Sgt Leslie Albert ROBERTS (age 25)
- Navigator – Sgt Reginald William Purchase ALEXANDER (age 22)
- Wireless Operator – Sgt William Herbert HUNT (age 22)
- Gunner – Sgt George Henry PATTERSON (age 28)
- Gunner – Sgt John William DUFFIELD (age 20)
Flying Halifax L9561 as part of a group of 100 bombers, they left England at 7:30 pm and headed towards their target – a bombing raid on Bremen, Germany. At 10:15 pm, Muttart’s plane was shot upon. He managed to steer the plane south, passing over the town of Harlingen, where the plane was shot a second time. Just past the village of Wons, the plane crashed, but not before all of the crew members, except for Muttart, had parachuted out. The crew members, all British, spent the rest of the war in various prisoner of war camps.
Muttart was buried in Harlingen General Cemetery, in the province of Friesland, on October 16, 1941 by the German military. This is a public cemetery with 67 Commonwealth burials from WW II, most of them airmen. 22 are unidentified. In addition, there are four unidentified war graves of other nationalities.
When we went to pay our respects at Muttart’s grave with flags and a bouquet of flowers, we were joined by two members of the Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of Allied planes shot down in The Netherlands during WW II. The Foundation plans to honour the Halifax L9561 crew with a memorial plaque to be placed in Wons, near the site of the plane crash, and is raising funds for an event planned for October 2018.
We thought a Canadian contribution towards this would be a fitting tribute to honour Muttart, and the Tryon and Area Historical Association in Prince Edward Island agreed to help with a fundraising project, “Muttart Memorial Fund” for donations made within Canada. Funds raised will be transferred to the Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation.
“The Tryon & Area Historical Society is pleased to sponsor Pieter and Daria Valkenburg for carrying out the Elmer Bagnall Muttart Memorial Project. The Society will also administer the receiving of donations to go toward the cost of the Memorial. Registered Charity tax receipts will be issued’, says Jack Sorensen, Chair of the Tryon & Area Historical Society Inc.
Meeting with Alexander Tuinhout, Secretary for the Foundation, and Douwe Drijver, Treasurer for the Foundation, at Harlingen General Cemetery at Muttart’s grave was a fitting way to get acquainted as we begin to work on this joint project.
One of the stories we had heard about Muttart’s burial is that he was buried with “full military honours” by the German military. We had no idea if that was true, until we received a copy of a letter written by Gunner Sgt John William DUFFIELD, one of Muttart’s crew members. Duffield was injured during the plane crash and ended up in a hospital.
In a January 2, 1946 letter to Muttart’s father, Louis Muttart, Duffield wrote what happened:
“Elmer, better known as ‘Happy’ on the squadron, was not my skipper, but for the fateful night of October 12th, I was loaned to his crew to fulfill my duties as a rear gunner. He was my own skipper’s friend, and as he was such a good pilot, I was glad to be flying with him although it was only for the night.
We were on our way to Bremen and just over the Dutch coast when we were attacked from underneath. I had my oxygen mask and microphone blown off my face and was hit on the left leg, hand, and body. From this time onwards, I was out of communication with the crew.
We finally had two fighters attacking us and I managed to get one of them. Our inner port engine caught fire, but by wonderful flying, Happy managed to keep the machine from spinning, but was unable to keep it from diving. As a result he told us to jump from it.”
Duffield continued in his 1946 letter, “By this time I was paralyzed up the left side of my body and in trying to jump from the rear turret, my right leg became jammed. It was only when I pulled my ‘chute that I freed myself. I then became unconscious.”
In a November 11, 2000 letter to Peter Hinchcliffe, who was researching German night fighters of WW II, Duffield wrote that “I came to lying on the ground, surrounded by German officers and Dutch civilians. An ambulance soon arrived and I was on my way to hospital. The following day, a tall, good looking German officer arrived and introduced himself as Helmut Lent.” The hospital was in nearby Leeuwarden. Major Helmut LENT was the commander of 4./NJG 1 squadron, stationed at the airfield in Leeuwarden. A member of Lent’s squadron, Lt. Leopold FELLERER was responsible for shooting down the plane.
Duffield wrote about Lent in his 1946 letter to Muttart’s father, saying that Lent “later became the crack night fighter ace of the German Air Force. He met his death in June 1944. He asked me to send you his deepest sympathy for your son’s death. Although he was our enemy, I can assure you that he meant it. Happy was given a full military funeral and all arrangements were made by this pilot. He bought a wreath for me on behalf of the crew in red, white, and blue flowers.”
Alexander Tuinhout and Douwe Drijver told us that over 400 Allied planes crashed in Friesland and surrounding water, plus 150 German planes. Most of the time, there were no survivors of plane crashes, making the 7 survivors of Halifax L9561 unusual.
In the next blog entry, we visit the Politiek farm in Wons, site of the plane crash, and speak with Cor Politiek, who was 9 years old in 1941 when the plane crashed on his parents’ dairy farm.
Do you have a story or photos about Halifax L9561, its crew members, John Duffield, or Elmer Muttart? You can share your comments and stories by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by commenting on this blog.
If you would like to make a donation in support of the commemoration plaque for Halifax L9561, the information follows below:
In Canada: Cheques may be written out to TAHS and mailed to Tryon & Area Historical Society (TAHS), PO Box 38, Crapaud PE C0A 1J0. In the subject line, identify your cheque as being for the “Muttart Memorial Fund”. A charitable donation receipt will be sent to all donors.
In Europe: Bank transfers may be made to Stichting Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation, Bank Account # (IBAN) NL35ABNA0569579856, and state in the subject line “Attn D.S. Drijver for Halifax L9561”.
© Daria Valkenburg