Moving ceremony to commemorate bomber crew
By Trevor Brookes - Editor
TEESDALE relatives of an airman who lost his life in the Second World War attended a moving ceremony organised by Dutch officials who found his bomber submerged in a lake.
Stirling BK716 took off from RAF Downham Market, in Norfolk, to take part in a raid on Berlin on March 29, 1943, with 328 other bombers. The aircraft was shot down over Lake Markermeer, near Amsterdam. The plane was on the return leg and all seven crew members were classed as missing.
In 2008, the Royal Netherlands Sea Rescue discovered a piece of rusty landing gear by chance. They later identified it as part of the Stirling BK716.
A successful salvage operation of the aircraft started in 2020 with the remains of the men still on board. Capt Suzanne de Boer, of the Royal Netherlands airforce, who was involved in the project, said at the time: “We want to bring home the people who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, so that their families can have a decent final goodbye.”
Sisters Elizabeth Beach and Mary Elliott, from Middleton-in-Teesdale, were contacted last year by an officer at Durham Police who was working with the Dutch and Canadian agencies to locate relatives of Sgt Ronald Kennedy.
The a 22-year-old flight engineer was one of the crew along with four other British airmen and two Canadians. Sgt Kennedy was the uncle of the late Martin Wallace, from Lane Head Farm, in Middleton-in-Teesdale, and Grace Gauja, formerly of Cotherstone. Ms Elliott said: “Ronald Kennedy lived at Gateshead, but used to come up to Middleton on the train to visit his sister Grace and her husband Jack, our grandparents, who was the station master at Middleton. Our father Martin Wallace remembered his uncle Ronald’s visits.”
A memorial ceremony was due to take place this March but had to be postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions. It was finally was held last month at the National Monument for Resistance (Forest of the Unyielding) in Almere.
The late Martin Wallace was represented by his daughters – Ms Beach and Ms Elliott. A nephew of Sgt Kennedy, John Kennedy, was also present.
An artwork called Rise was created by British-born artist Laura O’Neill, depicting an airman in uniform sitting on the actual wreckage of the engine. The sculpture was unveiled by Princess Margriet of the Netherlands with relatives and other representatives present. Wreaths were laid on behalf of the crew's relatives by the British and Canadian ambassadors. Ms Elliot said: “The organisations involved in the four-day programme were so generous, considerate and kind hearted and explained that they wanted to keep the memory alive of all those who fought for freedom.”
An exhibition of Short Stirling BK716 was officially opened in the Museum Fort Veldhuis, in Heemskerk.
Dutch officials are now working with Commonwealth War Graves Commission to bury the airmen.