On The War Memorial Trail…..Media Coverage On The Memorial Panel In Wons

November 28, 2019. On October 12, 2019, the memorial panel in The Netherlands to honour the crew of Halifax L9561 was unveiled.  (See On The War Memorial Trail…..The Memorial Panel In Wons Is Unveiled!) Two regional Dutch newspapers reported on the event in their October 16, 2019 publications: ‘Bolswarder Niewsblad’ and ‘Makkumer Belboei’.

Pieter has provided a translation of both articles:

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Bolswarder Niewsblad’  (See a PDF of the article in Dutch Bolswarder Nieuwsblad – 16-10-2019-1)

Unveiling of a Panel about a Plane Crash Near Wons

Wons.  On Saturday, October 12, 2019, it was 78 years ago that a witness in the area of Wons saw the Halifax L9561, which was ‘on fire, come gliding and zigzagging though the clouds.’ The bomber, with a crew of 8, had departed one and a half hours earlier from the English airport, Middleton Saint George, for a bombing mission on the port city of Bremen, but it never reached its target. On Saturday, an information panel was unveiled at the site of the crash. 

The plane had been spotted above the North Sea by the German radar station ‘Tiger’ at Terschelling.  A short time later, the experienced fighter pilot, Leopold ‘Poldi’ Fellerer, succeeded in shooting down the Halifax.  The plane crashed near the Weersterweg, just outside Wons, at 22 hours 17 minutes.

The next morning, it became clear that the 23 year old pilot, Elmer Bagnall Muttart, did not survive the crash. Later, co-pilot Norman Trayler said about Muttart that ‘He was a gallant captain and he died that we might live’.  The fact that the pilot was able to control the damaged plane long enough gave the remaining 7 crew members the chance to escape out of the burning bomber.  All survivors ended up in German prisoner of war camps and got their freedom back in 1945.

Exceptional is the story of rear gunner John Duffield of Oxford, who was hospitalized with severe injuries in the German section of the Boniface Hospital in Leeuwarden.  He was regularly visited by Poldi Fellerer and his gunner, Georg Lotze.  In 1955, 14 years after the crash of L9561, Lotze made an attempt from Germany to get in touch again with Duffield.

In his homeland, the deceased pilot Elmer Muttart has never been forgotten.  His name is mentioned on the Borden-Carleton Cenotaph, a monument close to his birthplace of Cape Traverse on Prince Edward Island.  For a long time, the exact story behind Muttart’s death was not known.  In Canada, Dutchman Pieter Valkenburg, who resides there, has delved into the history of all the deceased names on the monument, and as of 2016 also researched the life of Sgt Muttart.  Very quickly, collaboration began with the Frisian Stichting Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation (SMAMF), which has done research into the aerial war above the province since the 1970s. 

The idea of Valkenburg and SMAMF to honour, in perpetuity, Muttart’s last flight with an information panel at the crash site was realized on the 12th of October, thanks to the cooperation of Dorpsbelang Wons and financial support from within and outside The Netherlands.

About 30 relatives were present, as well as Deputy Mayor Maarten Offinga. Before the unveiling there was a reception at the museum Het Hannemahuis in Harlingen, where a short presentation about the history of Halifax L9561 was given.

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Makkumer Belboei’ (See a PDF of the article in Dutch Makkumer Belboei – 16-10-2019-1) by Sjoukje Steinhouden.

Information Panel on 1941 Crash Unveiled

On the evening of the 12th of October 1941, the Canadian pilot Elmer Muttart, with 7 British crew members, was on his way in Halifax L9561 towards Bremen, Germany, to take part in an aerial attack.  However, over Harlingen, they were shot at and hit by a German nightfighter and the plane caught fire.  Muttart quickly came to the conclusion that he couldn’t save the plane, and while holding the plane level, he ordered his crew out.  Thanks to him, they survived the crash.  The plane crashed just outside Wons and the 23 year old pilot was killed by the crash.  One of his crew members later said ‘he gave his life so that we might live’.

Exactly 78 years later, there again were Canadians and British in and around Wons.  This time they were relatives of the afore-mentioned crew.  They were invited for the unveiling of an information panel on the Weersterweg that will ensure that this event will never be forgotten.  The idea for this panel was made possible by collaboration between the Frisian Stichting Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation (SMAMF, see https://www.luchtoorlogfriesland.nl/) and Pieter Valkenburg, a Dutchman residing in Canada.  Already for years he has been doing research on Canadians who were killed during the Second World War. 

Under the billowing flags of Canada, Great Britain, and The Netherlands, Councillor Offinga from Súdwest Fryslân, Mr. Elgersma from Dorpsbelang Wons, and Mr. Pieter Valkenburg unveiled the panel with information about what happened on that autumn evening in 1941.  After that, the ‘Last Post’ was played, followed by a respectful minute of silence.  Wreaths and flowers were laid by local and international organizations, such as the Canadian and British embassies in The Netherlands.  Families were then invited to be the first to view the panel.  A daughter-in-law and grandson of one of the crew members reacted with the words ‘You know the stories about what happened.  Now it’s become real.’

After everybody had taken in the information and surroundings, the group left for Wons and stopped, for a few moments, at the war memorial there.  The SMAMF had put together a nice, informative program for them.  Earlier that day, they visited Het Hannemahuis in Harlingen where, according to one guest, a great presentation was given.  Of course, they also had visited the grave of the deceased Elmer Muttart in Harlingen. According to Sietse Kuiper of the SMAMF, ‘They were honoured that we have remembered, and therefore they made the trip’.

CIMG3634 Nov 6 2019 With Matt Rainie at CBC

Pieter (left) with CBC PEI’s Matt Rainnie at the CBC studio in Charlottetown. They are holding up a copy of the English language transcript of the “He Died That We Might Live’ booklet. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Pieter was interviewed by Jonna Brewer of CBC Moncton for the special regional Maritime Remembrance Day broadcast on November 11, 2019.  The interview about the events in Wons was suggested and organized by Matt Rainnie of CBC PEI and was done in the CBC studio in Charlottetown.  You can listen to this interview here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ho24lfnzhfhyjxmpW4qUo00p1IjyiwJ-/view?usp=sharing

A big thank you to Pieter for taking the time to translate the articles!  Thank you also to the Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation for sending us the articles, to Matt Rainnie and Jonna Brewer for featuring the Halifax L9561 story and memorial panel for the Remembrance Day broadcast, and thank you to Jane Scott for converting the MP3 file that CBC sent us into a link for this blog.  If you know of any more media stories, or have stories or photos to share about the crew or the events of October 12, 2019, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

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