Wellington Bomber R3236

 

On 6 July 1940, a flight of three Wellington Bombers including a type IC, Identification code R3236 crewed by Flying Officer Douglas Lindsay, Pilot Officer Ralph Ball, Sergeant Alexander Aitken, Sergeant Jack Waterfall DFM* and Sergeant Alexander Glen of RAF 37 Squadron took off from RAF Feltwell near Thetford in Norfolk. Their mission was a bombing raid over Bremen, Emden and Wilhelmshaven in Northern Germany. However cloud cover over the target cause the mission to be aborted. The last signal from R3236 was sent from near to Borkum (SW of the Friesland Islands). There was then radio silence and the plane did not return to base.

The families of the crew were informed of the plane’s failure to return and it was assumed that the plane had ditched over the North Sea. Five families were left to grieve over the unknown fate these young men until 1948 when a letter from the MOD confirmed that the plane had been shot down over Jever airbase and the bodies of the crew had been interred in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Sage near Oldenburg.  The family of Sgt Alec Aitken did not find out until 1952 the exact circumstances of the crash as they had moved house and the letters from the Air Ministry were not forwarded.

WreckageA contemporary photo of the Wreckage of R3236 in Upjever Forest

However that is not the end of the story: A chance search by Caroline Kesseler and Jack Waterfall (relatives of Sgt Jack Waterfall), revealed that the plane had indeed crashed in the forest at Upjever as, it is thought, it was trying to land at Jever airbase (opened in May 1937, ironically the same month that 37 Squadron arrived at RAF Feltwell).  The website they found contained contemporary photos of the crash site and, they were stunned to see a photo of the internment on 9th July in the Jever cemetery, of the remains of the crew, with full military honours. Their grave was marked by a tribute from the Commander of the Jever airbase with the inscription ‘To the Brave Enemy’.   An anonymous entry in the town’s burial register states that the shot down aircraft was works number 51356 and belonged to the 37 Squadron. Military Chaplain Ronneberger took the service.

Crash Site Location

Military Funeral

The funeral of the crew of R3236 in Jever Cemetery with full military honours by the German army

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The remains of the crew were subsequently moved to the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery just outside Sage.

Picture of the original cross marking the crew’s grave at Sage Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery

 

 

Contact was made with the people of Jever and a huge interest in the story of R3236 was revealed. A friendship sprang up and over the following months, intense research led Caroline and Jack to the families of F/O Lindsay and P/O Ball.

In July 2015 ceremonies were held at Jever and at the Bomber Command Memorial at Ely Cathedral, 30 miles from RAF Feltwell, to mark the 75th anniversary of the crash. A poignant experience for the families as they remembered these young men, never to be fathers or grandfathers. Interest in the project grew and in September 2015, the families gathered at Brooklands Museum, Surrey where the only surviving Wellington Bomber on display is located. Although the plane is in a very fragile condition, Brooklands Museum allowed the families to board the plane. It was a sobering experience and brought home the depth of bravery of the young men who flew these planes.

The research by Caroline and Jack continued and, after much searching, they managed to track down the families of Sgt Aitken and Sgt Glen.

That might have been the end of the project but to mark the 80th anniversary of the Jever airbase, the German Air Force Protection Regiment contacted the families to say that they would like to install a permanent memorial to the crew of R3236.  A memorial stone was commissioned and, before installation at a ceremony on 24 June, the stone will travel to various location around Great Britain, linked to members of the crew, to remember these young men.  These acts of remembrance will start at Ely Cathedral on 24 April and will include a special service at Edinburgh Castle at which representatives of all five families will be present.

*Distinguished Flying Medal

A visit to the RAF Club

Jack Waterfall, Doug Aylward and Polly Freeman were lucky enough to visit the RAF Club on Piccadilly in between visiting the Bomber Command Memorial and St Clement Danes, the RAF’s Church and where the crew of R3236 are all listed in the Roll of Honour.  During their visit they were lucky enough to see a maquette of the Sculpture which commands the centre of the Bomber Command Memorial.

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It is a beautiful item and we were delighted that it has pride of place amongst the many artefacts displayed in the club.  We were also intrigued by a corridor displaying the emblems of scores of RAF Regiments, including 37 Squadron which the crew of R3236 belonged to.

R3236 families reunite at a preview of the International Bomber Command Centre

spire2On 10 April, the families of the crew of R3236 gathered again when they were invited to visit the International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC) on a hillside overlooking Lincoln Cathedral.  The IBCC is a world-class facility to serve as a point for recognition, remembrance and reconciliation for Bomber Command. Providing the most comprehensive record of the Command in the world, the IBCC ensures that generations to come can learn of their vital role in protecting the freedom we enjoy.  Although the visitor centre is still under construction, the awe inspiring spire, the UK’s tallest war memorial, can be visited.  The Spire, made of Corten Weathering Steel is 31.09m high (the wingspan of an Avro Lancaster Bomber) and 5m wide at the base (the width of a Lancaster wing). Unintentionally, although a stroke of serendipity, the secondary smaller spire is a couple of centimetres short of the wing span of a Wellington Bomber, such as the one flown by F/O Lindsay, P/O Ball, Sgt Aitken, Sgt Glen and Sgt Waterfall.spire

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The honeycomb interior of the spire was inspired by the cooling panels on the inside of a Lancaster’s Engines

 

On the curved walls, also made of Corten Weathering Steel, surrounding the Spire are the names of the crews, based in Lincolnshire, who were among the 58,000 men and women of Bomber Command who lost their lives. Although the names of the R3236 crew are not recorded on the panelsspirewall at the moment, when the IBCC is completed, all members of Bomber Command who did not return from their missions will be recorded.

In tandem with the creation of the IBCC, a digital archive is being created under the auspices of the University of Lincoln, to record for posterity the experiences of the men and women who served with Bomber Command.  The R3236 were invited to meet the archive team at the University of Lincoln’s Riseholm campus

spiregroupPictured left to right, are relatives of F/O Douglas Lindsay (DL), P/O Ralph Ball (RB), Sgt Alex Aitken (AA) and Sgt Jack Waterall (JW): Keith and Alexis Brand (JW), Kirsty and Polly Freeman (RB), Jeremy and Trish Ruff (JW), Doug Aylward (DL), Ted Fuller (JW), Gordon Inglis (AA), Peter Schulz (IBCC Digital Archive) and Caroline Kesseler (JW).  We are very grateful to Heather Hughes and Peter Schulz of the University of Lincoln Bomber Command Digital Archive for facilitating our visit to Lincoln.

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Lincoln Cathedral seen from the Spire

The IBCC aims to be self financing as it seeks to achieve its aim of providing a place for Bomber Command’s contribution to World War Two to be remembered and understood.  You can find out more about visiting the Centre, after its official opening in 2018 and donating to the cost of the memorial by visiting their website:

 

www.http://internationalbcc.co.uk

A Memorable Day at Edinburgh Castle

On Sunday 22 May representatives of the families of all five members of the crew gathered in the Chapel of the Scottish National War Memorial to honour the crew of R3236.  In the presence of Herr Heinrich Schnettger, representative of the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany to Scotland, a memorial service was led by Reverend Angus Smith.  Also in attendance was Squadron Leader Nobby Clark – PSO to Air Officer Scotland RAF and Lieutenant Colonel Roger Binks Keeper of the Rolls and Secretary to the Trustees of The Scottish National War Memorial.

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Pictured above from left to right are: Janice Haver, John Duncan and Margaret Duncan (Sgt Alexander Glen), Gordon Inglis and Eleanor McAllister (Sgt Alec Aitken) Doug Aylward and Jeremy Hopkins (F/O Douglas Lindsay), Polly Freeman and Ann Ball (P/O Ralph Ball) and Jack Waterfall (Sgt Jack Waterfall DFM).  A lament was played on the bagpipes by Rhys Clark.  The families are very grateful to the indefatigable research of Caroline Kesseler and Jack Waterfall who managed to track the families down who previously had never had any contact.   Many stories about the families individual experiences of the crash and its aftermath were revealed including that the Glen family did not find out about Alexander’s fate until 1952 – twelve years after he was reported missing in action.  All five families were delighted to witness a handshake between Herr Schnettger and Douglas Aylward.

 

All Five Families to be present at Edinburgh Castle Service

With family members spread all over the world and the Memorial Stone being on a strict schedule ahead of its installation in Germany, it was looking unlikely that members of the families of all five crew members would be together at any one event.  We can now confirm that representatives from all five families will be at the service at the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle on 22 May: Doug Aylward and Jeremy Hopkins will represent F/O Lindsay, Ann Ball and Polly Freeman will represent P/O Ball, Jack Waterfall will be representing Sgt Jack Waterfall DFM, Janice Brown, Jeanette and Emily will be there on behalf of Sgt Glen and Gordon Inglis will represent Sgt Aitken.   This will truly be the icing on the cake for the project and a momentous event in the story of the Memorial Stone.  Also in attendance will be the Secretary of the Scottish National War Memorial, The German Consul-General and representatives of the RAF.  The service will finish with a lament played on the bagpipes.  Watch this space for photos and reports of the event.

You can now see the wonderful video presentation, which is accompanying the Memorial Stone on its tour around  the Country

 

 

A historic handshake

 

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At a special service held at Ely Cathedral on Sunday 24 April, led by Canon Chris Barber and attended by forty friends and family members,  the Memorial Stone was officially unveiled.  Representatives of the RAF and Luftwaffe were present and ceremonially shook hands before the Memorial Stone.  Also in attendance were members of the Royal British Legion including a representative from Rickmansworth where P/O Ralph Ball lived. The service was preceded by the soundtrack of a Wellington Bomber in flight and the morse code signal sent by the crew and included a reading of the inscription in German that is around the edge of the Memorial Stone.  A trumpet solo of Ich Hatt Einen Kameraden was played by Laurine Green

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Canon Chris Barber leads the service of dedication at Ely Cathedral

On Saturday 23 April members of the crews families visited RAF Feltwell, currently occupied by the US Airforce.  A large amount of the wartime infrastructure, including 37 Squadron’s hanger and the Officers and Sergeants Mess, are still standing.  Most sobering of all was being able to see the grass runway from which R3236 took on its fateful journey

A weekend of Celebrations and Remembrance

The Wellington R3236 Memorial Stone

Service of Dedication

Ely Cathedral

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12.15pm Sunday 24th April 2016

Conducted by Canon Chris Barber

  • Welcome and Message
  • Unveiling of the Memorial Stone by Polly, Mary, Anna and their daughters
  • German Inscription – Read by Angela Pickersgill                                                                     Der Fliegerhorst Jever war bereits alarmiert, als der Britische Bomber das Flugfeld aus nordöstlicher richtung anflog.  Im Tiefflug und schnell anfliegend wurde er durch die Flak des Fliegerhorstes abgeschossen
  • Ceremonial Handshake by representatives of The Luftwaffe and RAF Regiment
  • Trumpet solo played by Laurine Green                                                                                             Solo “Ich Hatt Einen Kamerden Played from the Presbiter facing eastwards
  • Prayer
  • Dismissal

 

On Saturday 23rd April members of the Crew’s families have been invited to tour RAF Feltwell, now used by the USAF to view the remaining 1940s structures