February 6, 2018. The basic story of PEI WW II pilot Elmer Bagnall MUTTART, whose name is listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, was told previously in this blog. In the last blog entry, we visited Harlingen General Cemetery where Muttart is buried, and met with two volunteers from the Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation (See On the War Memorial Trail ….. At Harlingen General Cemetery).
With the previous soldiers whose graves we had visited, the cemetery or memorial was the last stop on the war memorial trail for that person. In the case of Muttart, the journey continued. The Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation had received an invitation for us to visit the Politiek farm, the first farm outside of the village of Wons, where Halifax L9561 crashed after being shot down. The farm is still owned by the Politiek family and we were welcomed by Johannis Politiek and his wife Jantina. Johannis’ father Cor, who was 9 years old in 1941 when the plane crashed on his parents’ dairy farm, was also present and gave his recollection of that fateful evening.
Cor lived on the farm with his parents and siblings. He was the youngest. Everyone was in bed when they heard the commotion and saw that the plane was on fire as it was coming down, flying about 40 metres over the farmhouse roof. Pieces of the plane were flying off until the plane crashed in the field a few hundred metres from the farmhouse, making a deep hole in the ground. Due to the burning plane, no one could get to it until the next day, when the German authorities arrived.
When asked if anyone from the family had tried to approach the plane, Cor shook his head, explaining that the Dutch population were not allowed to approach, under threat of reprisals from their Nazi occupiers.
Cor recalled that one of the survivors from the plane crash was on their farm, but unfortunately the Dutch Resistance had no means to safely evacuate anyone. (Note: We do not know who this was.) Allied airmen had been instructed by the British government to surrender to the authorities, and that’s what they did. As prisoners of war they were first brought to Leeuwarden, then to a prison in Amsterdam, and from there sent in groups to Frankfurt for interrogation before being transferred to the various prisoner of war camps. Injured prisoners of war, such as John William Duffield, were sent to the hospital in Leeuwarden, which was next to the German air base and quarters for German pilots.
In Duffield’s November 11, 2000 letter to Peter Hinchcliffe, who was researching German night fighters, he explained that “Muttart had arrived back at Middleton St. George after a conversion course at Linton on Ouse a few days prior to 12th October. His crew were down for an operation to Bremen. It was then found that three members of the crew were very inexperienced. They were the W/OP (wireless operator), Engineer, and Rear Gunner. As a result Hunt (W/OP), Roberts (Engineer), and myself flew with the crew. Those we were replacing travelled as passengers for experience. Trayler was second pilot and Alexander navigator.
We had just crossed the Dutch coast when there was a loud bang and the inner port engine caught fire. My microphone was smashed. Muttart gave orders to prepare to abandon. Shortly after this I could hear nothing, but saw parachutes opening below. I then decided I had better leave and as I could not make it up the fuselage decided to get out of the turret.”
In a December 22, 2000 letter to Peter Hinchcliffe, Duffield continued with the events of that night, saying what he had learned many years afterward. “The night of the 12th October was a complete shambles, flying to Germany with no one in the front turret. I only found this out after the war at a reunion. After we had been hit I opened the turret door and leaned out as far as I could but could see nothing. I then assumed that we must have been directly over the fighter. Had there been someone in the front turret this situation could have been avoided.” We’ll never know if this is true, as it was wartime and anything could change in a second.
Duffield’s January 2, 1946 letter to Louis Muttart, father of Elmer Muttart, gave a secondhand account of what happened after Duffield lost contact with the cockpit when his microphone was destroyed, and then he lost consciousness after being injured when the plane was attacked on October 12, 1941. “On my discharge from hospital I was unable to meet any others of the crew, but whilst on a ‘medical rehabilitation course’ some six months ago I met the wireless operator.” The wireless operator was William Herbert HUNT. All of the surviving crew had spent the remainder of the war in prisoner of war camps, and it was likely after returning to England that the crew were sent to the medical rehabilitation course that Duffield refers to.
Duffield continues his letter with what Hunt told him. “Evidently he was the last man to leave the machine alive. Before jumping he noticed that the machine was only 800 feet up. Happy (Muttart’s nickname) was quite all right and said that he would stick to the aircraft and make a crash land. True to the rules of air and sea, the skipper remained. Happy, however, marvellous pilot that he was, was unable to pull the machine out of the dive and crashed with it. He died instantly.”
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)
- Flight Engineer – Sgt Leslie Albert ROBERTS (age 25) (previously recorded as bomb aimer)
- 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)
Our thanks go to the families of Elmer Muttart and John Duffield for sharing the correspondence and allowing us to quote from the letters in this blog entry, and the previous one. These first hand memories are so important in telling the stories of what happened during wartime.
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, which is being planned for placement in Wons, the information is 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”.
We’d now visited the graves of all the names listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion who were buried in The Netherlands. In our next blog entry, we visit a cemetery in Cologne, Germany and the grave of WWI soldier Lt. Henry Warburton STEWART.
© Daria Valkenburg