By Douglas and Marja Phillips
The Commemoration Ceremony, an event of great signifcance, was to honour the crew of the Short Stirling BK716 that was shot down and crashed into Lake Markermeer on the fateful night of March 30th, 1943. None of the seven-man crew survived. Two of the crew were Canadians, Flt. Sergeant J. Francis McCaw from Belleville and Flt. Officer Harry Farrington from Niagara Falls, of the Canadian Royal Air Force, and five were from the British Royal Air Force.
It has been a long journey from the discovery of the plane in 2008 to the recovery of the wreckage in October 2020. This is part of the Dutch Government’s National Aircraft Recovery Program of bringing up three to five planes per year. Working with the Aircraft Recovery Group thirty to fifty plane crash sites have been identified with human remains.
The day of the ceremony was Tuesday, October the 12th, 2021. It was a cloudy day that greeted the invited guests which included the families of the BK716 crew, Dutch Royalty, Canadian and British Ambassadors, the Mayor and Alderman, to attend the Commemoration Ceremony and unveil a special memorial in Resistance Memorial Park. The Park is located in The Municipality of Almere in the Province of Flevoland, in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a short distance from where the Short Stirling BK716 was shot down.
Franc Weerwind, Mayor of the Municipality of Almere opened the Ceremony welcoming the guest and relatives.
“In 2018, the crew’s surviving relatives asked us to recover the remains of their family members. The Municipality of Almere and the Almere Municipal Council embraced and supported their request to recover the aircraft. We believe it is of great importance that the crew’s remains can be laid to rest in a proper burial. The crew paid the ultimate price for our freedom today.”
Hilde van Garderen, Alderman of the Municipality of Almere: “When I took office as Alderman of the Municipality of Almere in 2018, I was soon told about the crew of a Short Stirling BK716 that had crashed into Lake Markermeer. I also learned about the request of the crew’s surviving relatives to recover the aircraft. From that moment, I have worked hard to ensure that the recovery operation could take place. To me, it’s a debt of honour. But not only to me, so many people and organizations committed themselves to make it possible, each with the same intention: to provide closure to the surviving relatives. We all prioritized due care and respect for the crew and their next of kin at all times.’
Unveiling of the Artwork “Rise”
HRH Princess Margriet of the Netherlands Royal Family unveiled the artwork Rise by artist Laura O’Neill. “Rise” is of a young man sitting on one of the original engine blocks of the BK716. Laura wanted to honour their sacrifice for our freedom by representing the voices of the crews lost in action and to honour the commitment they made for us. Around the base of the monumen, engraved on each side and on the top of the base, in English and Dutch, are the words “We Commemorate The Crew of the Short Stirling BK716 – Who Died During the Second World War – They Paid the Ultimate Price – So We Can Live in Freedom Today” Their names are engraved on the base of the Rise memorial.
Anne Frank Tree
Opposite “Rise” in the Resistance Memorial Park is a special tree. This tree is from the 170-year-old white horse chestnut tree that Anne Frank could see from her window as she wrote her dairy each day, whilst in hiding from the German occupation forces. Anne wrote in her diary on February 23, 1944 “From my favourite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind.” Anne’s tree collapsed in 2010 from disease but a few years before, the stewards at the Ann Frank House grew saplings from the original tree, which have been distributed to many locations in Holland and around the world. Resistance Memorial Park
In 1992 Resistance Memorial Park, (Bos der Onverzettelijken) which means “Forest of the Unyielding” was planted with trees in memory and recognition of all the Dutch resistance fighters who were executed during the Second World War. In 1993, the park was opened to the public by HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands as a memorial to all the courageous acts of the resistance fighters between 1940 and 1945 who gave their lives for the freedom of us all, and to be an inspiration for new generations.
Wreath Laying and Flag Raising
The orchestra played the national anthems of Canada, Great Britain and the Kingdom of the Netherland, and each country’s flag was raised during the ceremony by the members of the Flevoland section of the Dutch Marine Veterans. Wreaths were laid by the Canadian Ambassador, Ms. Lisa Helfund, the British Ambassador, Joanna Roper, the Mayor and King’s Commissioner Leen Verbeek for the province of Flevoland. The family members of the crew then laid their wreaths and took a moment to reflect on their relatives’ short lives.
Stella van Velzen of the Montessori primary school in Almere-Stad read her poem ‘Trapped in the Short Stirling.’
Trapped in the Short Stirling
I’m a soldier in the war
I’m in the Short Stirling
We are dropping the bombs.
I’m scared, I’m trapped
I lost my family
I have no place to go
I still do my job
With tears in my eyes
thinking about all the people who died
Then I hear something
it’s a bomb
My heart dropped
A moment nothing happens
then we fall
I feel the air rushing through my body
It’s too late, my end has come
and then it all went black.
The ceremony was accompanied by the Royal Netherlands Air Force Orchestra, conducted by Sergeant Major Remco van Viersen. The orchestra played several compositions including ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness en Bist du bei mir’ during the wreath laying. Wreaths were laid by various officials and members of the crew’s families.
After the ceremony HRH Princess Margriet met and talked with the crew’s family members.
Crash and Recovery Site of the BK716 On October 13th family members were taken to the crash site of the BK716 on Lake Markermeer. Johan Graas of the Aircraft Recovery Group and Hans Vierveijzer of the Royal Netherlands Lifeboat Institution shared their stories of finding the plane, and their research. The ARG, founded and chaired by Johan is solely run by volunteers, and the group has enabled the reburial of several missing Airmen. Organizations worldwide and government agencies have used his knowledge throughout the years. Parts of the BK716 were discovered by the RNLI when a yachtsman was reported in trouble on the lake. They helped retrieve his heavy anchor on which was clay and mud. The ARG was immediately contacted, and it was confirmed there were parts of iron and aluminum, possibly parts of an allied British Short Stirling bomber missing in action during the war.
The Dutch Royal Family was given sanctuary in Canada during the Second World War and Princess Margriet was born in The Civic Hospital, Ottawa. She has made several visits to Canada, thanking veterans for the Liberation of Holland.
Special thank you to Lilian van Mourik, the Municipality of Almere Project Manager Short Stirling recovery, for all her help in providing the information for our articles.
All photographs and ceremony arrangements courtesy of the Municipality of Almere.
In the article The Recovery of the Short Stirling Bomber BK716 in issue 146 of the Wayback Times, it was incorrectly stated, “The illustrations for the book cover and those in the book, ‘The Night of the Stirling’ have been created by Kelvin Wilson and Nils Raavé” when, in fact, Nils Raavé was the only artist for the book. No other artist was involved. We apologize for the error.