RAF: Lancaster crews laid to rest with military honours

raf crews

The crews of two Royal Air Force Lancaster bombers that crashed over 70 years ago were laid to rest with military honours by the Queen’s Colour Squadron in two services at the Durnbach War Cemetery in Southern Germany on Wednesday, 21 October 2015.

The first service was for Pilot Officer George Smith, flight engineer on Lancaster JB221, as well as three of his fellow crew members.

JB221 belonged to 97 Squadron and took off on 26 November 1943 from RAF Bourn in Cambridgeshire. It had a seven-strong crew for a bombing mission over Frankfurt in central Germany but failed to return home. The aircraft was later reported to have crashed a mile east of the village of Brandau, 25 miles south east of Frankfurt.

Three fatalities were recovered at the time and buried locally in Brandau cemetery before being re-interred at the Durnbach War Cemetery. The four other crew members could not be found and were commemorated on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, UK.

Following an excavation of the site in 2009 and 2010 by a civilian team, further remains were found and have now been laid to rest at Durnbach.

The second service saw the burial of the remains of crew members of Lancaster ED427, including pilot Flying Officer Alex Bone, navigator Sergeant William Yelland, wireless operator Sgt John White, flight engineer Sgt Norman Foster, bomb aimer Sgt Raymond Rooney, mid upper gunner Sgt Ronald Cope and rear gunner Sergeant Bruce Watt, of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

ED427 and its seven crew, belonging to 49 Squadron, took off from RAF Fiskerton, five miles east of Lincoln, on 16 April 1943 to attack the Skoda armaments works in the Czechoslovakian brewing town of Pilsen. The aircraft failed to return and may have been downed by enemy flak.

In September 2012 a civilian excavation team unearthed the remains of Lancaster ED427 in the village of Laumersheim south west of Frankfurt together with human remains. These have now been laid to rest at Durnbach.

The cases were taken on and progressed by the MoD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, based at Imjin Barracks in Innsworth, Gloucestershire.

The Reverend (Squadron Leader) Colin O’Dell, from RAF Odiham, conducted the church and burial services and said: “It was appropriate that we honoured our fallen with these ceremonies, just as we would honour our fallen who make the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of peace today.

“It was a long and emotional journey for the families but we hope that the ceremonies, both at the church and cemetery, gave them time, space and a very appropriate place to bring those emotions to rest.”

The union flag used to dress the coffin of Pilot Officer George Smith, the Flight Engineer of RAF Lancaster JB221 are presented to his niece Linda Ralph (56) from Edinburgh.

Linda Ralph, 56, from Edinburgh and the niece of PO Smith, said: “The ceremonies were a beautiful end to a lot of research by our family and it was a very moving experience for us to lay to rest our uncle, brother and son who didn’t come home from the war.

“Sadly George’s brothers and sisters passed away before we were able to come to Germany, but it was an honour for the next generation in our family to come and pay our respects. The ceremony was so well conducted and we were really well received in Germany, it was extraordinary.

“We’re really happy that George is now buried in Germany alongside some of his fellow crew members. They flew together, worked together and died together, so it’s apt that they now rest in one place together.”

Editor: Gavin Brown

Photographs: Mike Drewett

© MOD Crown Copyright 2015