Thursday 14th of September, at exactly 13:55, a historic Beechcraft flew over the recovery site on the vast water of lake IJssel, where seven wreaths had just been laid. Out of respect for and in memory of the 7 brave crew members of Lancaster ED603. The 30 relatives of these young men were clearly moved.
The day started with a visit to the visitor centre. Relatives there saw the first wreckage of Lancaster ED603 that their relatives went down with 80 years ago. Among others, a flywheel, one of the four engines and the plane’s radio were on display. Later that day, the visitor centre opened to the public.
Admiration for the sacrifices of seven brave young men
After all those present had boarded the ship Regina Andrea, Mayor Jannewietske de Vries opened her speech with “Eric Arthur Tilbury… Harold Elvin Howsam… Arthur Bertram Smart… Charles Fredrick Sprack… Raymond Edward Moore… Arthur Gordon Fletcher… Gordon Robert Sugar… The seven brave, young men who gave their lives for the freedom of others.”
Minister of Defense, Kajsa Ollongren also expressed her admiration for and thanks to these seven brave men, after which Mayor De Vries and Minister Ollongren received the first copies of the book Geborgen Verleden (Salvaged History). They received this book, which is about the crew members of Lancaster ED603, from the hands of Douwe Drijver, on behalf of the Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation (SMAMF).
The Last Post, an intense minute of silence and seven wreaths
Once at the excavation site, conversations hushed up. This was and is a special place, and it was immediately obvious to the bereaved. A special ceremony was held at the crash site. This included sharing the stories of the three crew members still missing: Charles Sprack (23), Raymond Moore (21) and Arthur Smart (27). Pieter Bergsma, horn player of the Royal Air Force orchestra, then traditionally played the Last Post. The final tone was followed by an intense minute of silence for the seven crew members of the Lancaster ED603.
Minister Ollongren laid a wreath on behalf of the Department of Defense for the Dutch government and Stieneke van de Graaf did so together with Jurn de Vries on behalf of the Dutch parliament. General Onno Eichelsheim, Armed Forces Command, and Erwin van Beljouw, Commander Air Support Command, also paid their respects by laying a wreath. Two wreaths were laid on behalf of the ambassadors of Britain and Canada. Mayor De Vries and alderman Petra van den Akker then laid a wreath on behalf of the municipality of Súdwest-Fryslân. The seventh and final wreath was laid by the SMAMF.
Freedom is not for free. Not 80 years ago, not today
With that, the ceremony was almost over, but not before a historic Beechcraft flew over the site as a final salute to the crew members. The 30 British and Canadians were visibly affected by the respect for their lost relatives.
“They never realised how much attention is paid to their deceased relatives. That we commemorate these war heroes with such respect is something they find very special. And a day like this brings up emotions in me as well,” said Mayor De Vries.
Alderman Petra van den Akker also expressed her feelings: “This is touching and that is a good thing. Stories of sacrifices for our freedom here and now must continue to move us, so that we never forget. As Minister Ollongren said beautifully today: “They were defending peace, freedom and self-determination. Freedom is not for free. Not 80 years ago, not today.”
Visit to the graves in Workum, Stavoren and Hindeloopen
The day before, relatives visited the cemeteries in Workum, Stavoren and Hindeloopen. The bodies of pilot Eric Tilbury (26), Harold Hawsam (27), Arthur Fletcher (20) and Gordon Sugar (21) washed up on the Frisian coast after the crash and were given their final resting place in these cemeteries. In cooperation with the 4 May committees and local primary schools, a ceremony was held at each location. During these ceremonies, a number of children read, in English, letters and stories they had written to the fallen crew members. The children and the 4 May committees then respectfully laid flowers on the war graves.