Adopt a war grave

Today I received word that I have adopted Keith and also Alan, Horace, Frederick, Leslie and William.

The adoption certificate also states what this adoption entails and what I have to do for it. I promise to keep their memory alive by documenting and telling their life stories.

I vow to understand that peace, freedom and security cannot be taken for granted. That great sacrifices have been made for this in the past, but also in the present. That is why I want to honor the memory of the war victims.

I met Keith, Alan, Horace, Frederik, Leslie and William during an evening walk with my wife, Karin, near our new home in Beverwijk. We passed the municipal cemetery Duinrust and the entrance gate was open so we decided to take a look.

And there they are buried. Each under an identical memorial stone in a Commonwealth war grave.

Our interest in war graves and commemorating the fallen is a bit above average because Karin’s son Timo also rests in a war grave. On the military plot in Loenen. Timo was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2007, aged 20. The grief for him is still palpable.

But who cares about Keith, Alan, Horace, Frederick, Leslie and William who died in 1943?

At the graves is a plaque with the following text:

On the night of 11-12 June 1943, a major attack by Allied bombers took place on a number of German cities, including Dortmund, Düsseldorf and Munster. No fewer than 783 aircraft took part in this raid, 38 of which were lost that night.

The Lancaster W47 91 PH-W, of the 12th squadron, was shot down on its return journey to England. About three o’clock in the morning this aircraft came down burning and slammed into the ground near Paasduin in Wijk aan Zee, killing all seven crew members. The seven killed were buried at Duinrust. The bodies were so mutilated that only that of Sergeant Pilot Berry could be identified.

Because the burned bodies have never been identified, it is uncertain whether the tombstones placed afterwards are in the right place, except for Berry’s. It was only after the liberation that the other names were established. The later placed tombstones show the emblem of the weapon under which they served, followed by army number, rank, name, function, date of death and age of the person involved and possibly a cross, and finally in many cases a short text in English.

Sergeant aviator Weston Robert Berry, 29, was from Dungong, New South Wales, Australia. On his stone is the text: “He died that we might live.”

Sergeant William Edward Cunliffe, navigator, age 28, had volunteered as a soldier. He was married and lived at Hyte in Kent. His stone reads: “The fruit of valor, gathered in the harvest of eternal peace”

Sergeant Keith Benedict Davidson, gunner.

Sergeant Alan Arthur Gill, bomb aimer, 20 years old and thus the youngest member of the crew. He was also a war volunteer from Sherburg in Elment, a smaller town in Yorkshire. The inscription on his stone reads: “Thoughts today – memories always of a dear son and brother”.

Sergeant Frederick Norman Pink, Flight Engineer, 26 years. Volunteered to fight against the Nazis. He was from Peckham, a borough of London. Here are the words: “Until now, some sleep – some slumber, some fold hands to sleep”.

Sergeant Horace Shepherd, pilot, age 29. This volunteer was unmarried and lived in Rhyl in Flints-hire. On his stone one reads: “Without goodbye he fell asleep – only memories remain”.

Sergeant Leslie Stephenson, radio operator.

Behind the gravestone of Sergeant Stephenson is the Canadian Howard Cedric Treherne, flying officer of the Royal Canadian Air Force buried. His body was found on the beach in Wijk aan Zee near pole 52.3 on 14 August 1943, and was buried at Duinrust on 16 August.

The Lancaster van Treherne, who was navigator, crashed into the sea near Den Helder on 29 June 1943, killing all seven crew members.

The pilot of this Lancaster is buried at the War Cemetery in Bergen op Zoom, two others in Castricum and three other crew members are still missing. Treherne came from the Canadian port of Truro in Nova Scotia. He was married, and was 22 years old.

This is what it says on the plaque.

They were in their twenties with their whole lives ahead of them. If they had survived World War II, they would now have been very elderly men. Or probably they would not have lived anymore because they had died from which a person can die prematurely, illness or an accident. But that’s not the point. Then they were twenty-somethings with the illusions of twenty-somethings. They were called upon and they went and hoped for the best. To this we owe our peace, freedom and security.

Karin and I have already placed a flower on each of those six graves. Now let’s get started with those life stories. If there is anyone who thinks he or she can help me with that, I’m highly recommended.

Erwin van den Brink

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