Commissioned by the Dutch Municipality of Almere
By Douglas Phillips
Seventy-eight years ago, March 29, 1943 a Short Stirling Bomber aircraft with a crew of seven was shot down over Holland. The plane crashed into Lake Markermeer north of Amsterdam and remained at the bottom of the lake until discovered in 2008. None of the crew survived, including two young Canadians, Francis McCaw and Harry Farrington.
Over the years parts of the wreckage and personal items had been recovered by local divers, but the plane had broken into pieces over a large area. The full recovery of the Short Stirling started on August 31, 2020 and was completed on October 9, 2020. Further investigation revealed that the bodies of the crew were amongst the wreckage.
The Short Stirling was a four-engine bomber, and in 1942 it was the largest bomber of the allied forces. This type of airplane of The Royal Air Force (RAF) was specially developed for bombardment, but because of its weight it was less able to manoeuvre, and therefore an easy target for the fast German night fighters. The crew of seven had an average age of 26. Their names are engraved on The Royal Air Force Runnymede Memorial Walls in England and included on the memorial are 3,050 missing Canadian airmen. (See article in the Fall 2020 Issue of The Wayback Times.)
During the war the area was still Lake IJsselmer and was an important flight route. Pilots often chose to fly over the Ijsselmeer on their return from bombing missions, as this route heightened their chance of survival if their plane crashed.
In the fall of 2020, the Municipality of Almere recovered the wreckage. The recovery is part of the National Aircraft Wreckage Recovery Programme of the Dutch national government and was commissioned by the Municipality of Almere. This programme was set up in 2018 and covers some 30 aircraft recovery operations. It was started to fulfil the fervent wishes of surviving relatives to be able to properly bury their missing family members and to obtain certainty about what happened to them. All the families of the BK716 have been notified, and we keep in contact with the families of the two Canadian crew members.
The Dutch Ministry of Defence, The Province of Flevoland and specialized contractor Leemans Speciaalwerken carried out the recovery process in Lake Markermeer. The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations and the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG) provide funds and advice. During this operation remains were recovered, and the Recovery & Identification Unit of the Royal Netherlands Army (BIDKL) examined the remains and identified them as those of the crew of the BK716.
The story of the Short Stirling BK716 and its crew forms an important part of Dutch heritage. During the Second World War Almere did not exist, but there are still remains of the war to be found in their grounds. The people of Almere feel it is important to tell this story to younger generations, and the history of the Short Stirling has led to the creation of a children’s book.
To keep the memory of the Second World War alive, the municipality has published the children’s book De nacht van de Stirling (The Night of the Stirling). The Dutch version was published in September 2020, but since then the municipality has received requests from relatives and foreign organizations, and they have had the book translated into English, by the writer Evert van Ginkel, and Canadian Alicia Walsh.
The book contains a fictional story of the last flight of a Short Stirling. While the book does not describe the last flight of the BK716, the story is based on historical facts. In the book, the writers follow four persons who experienced this final night. The book follows the crew of a Short Stirling on their mission to bomb Berlin. On the ground in Berlin, two young girls witness the impact of this bombing operation. During the flight home, we read about a German soldier who shoots down an allied plane. Finally, a Dutch girl who lives in the Netherlands while it is occupied, witnesses the crash of a plane in the Markermeer.
With the help of Martin Van Denzen, President of the Dutch/Canadian Association, a quantity of the book is being sent to Canada to be distributed.
The municipality of Almere also wanted to create an artwork to honour the crew of the BK716, and in December 2019, the municipality called for artists to apply. The jury was very impressed with Laura O’Neill’s artwork ‘Rise’.
The artwork consists of a part of wreckage, on top of which sits a life-sized young man, and his clothing marks him as a pilot from the Second World War.
With ‘Rise’, Laura wanted to honour their sacrifice for our freedom. The artwork will be placed in the park Bos der Onverzettelijken in 2021.
Laura is originally from England, with a master’s degree in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art. She now works and lives in Almere, and her work can be seen in the Netherlands as well as in other countries.
The illustrations for the book cover and those in the book, ‘The Night of the Stirling’ have been created by Nils Raavé .
When the recovery program first began, wreckage was recovered from what appeared to be the Short Stirling BK710. A monument for the crew of this aircraft was created in 2011 on the Isle of Marken near the community centre of Het Trefpunt, but due to the recently discovered new information on the BK716 changes have been made to the memorial monument, and seven basalt blocks with the names of the BK710 crew have been listed on stainless-steel nameplates to ensure they will never be forgotten. The changes were recently officially unveiled by Lieutenant Colonel of the Dutch Marines Corps, Robert van Riel and Dutch Army Lieutenant 1st. Class (ret.) Jan Commandeur. The expanded monument was created through the co-operation of the local community centre Het Trefpunt,The Royal Netherlands Rescue Society (KNRM) Marken and the Christelijke Oranje Vereniging ‘Marken & Oranje.’
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only a few attendees were allowed. As two members of the BK716 were Canadian, the monument is now a British/Canadian monument. The municipality decided to postpone the memorial service to honour the seven crew members of the Short Stirling BK716, but hope they can receive family members by October this year.
Almere is centrally located in the urban region containing the four major cities of Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague and Rotterdam, located in the province of Flevoland. It was built on land that was reclaimed from the sea in a feat of Dutch engineering. At the beginning of the 20th century, Almere’s present territory was just a patch of water in the Zuiderzee. Starting in 1932, the majority of the Zuiderzee was closed off from the North Sea and the salt-water inlet changed into a fresh-water lake, the IJsselmeer.
In 1975 Almere’s first inhabitants – real pioneers – took up residence on the newly reclaimed land. Since then, Almere has been developed into residential areas with parks, lakes, modern infrastructure, excellent transport and is in the vicinity of two international airports, making Almere a strategic location for entrepreneurs of all industries, and businesses development. Residents can rent, buy or build their own homes to meet their needs. Almere’s plan is to provide an integrated solution for the environment, while attaining optimal levels for the quality of life. (Visit: www.almere.nl)
The Netherlands celebrates 76 years of freedom in 2021. Rights and freedom are not unconditional. Connection forms an essential part of the commemoration and celebration of 76 years of liberation and freedom. The story of the crew of the Short Stirling is part of this commemoration. They fought for our freedom but paid the ultimate price. Freedom for which we are all thankful for every day.
In the fall of this year the crew of the BK716 will be finally laid to rest in Holland. It will bring closure to family members, who plan to attend the Service. The Dutch people continue to honour our fallen heroes and this story which covers four decades continues this tradition. Canada and The Netherlands have an enduring bond, and the efforts of the Dutch people to recover the remains of missing family members further strengthens this bond.
On May 4, Dutch Remembrance Day, all surviving veterans who helped liberate Holland will receive a special letter and flowers from the children of Holland.
A special thank you to Lilian van Mourik, Program Manager of the Municipality of Almere and Richard McCaw for their help with the information for this article.
Information links on the Short Stirling recovery: The Province has commissioned a documentary about the crew members and their relatives: www.vliegenoverpolderlijnen.com
Information links – information about the recovery.www.almere.nl/over-almere/historie/erfgoedhuis/archeologie-in-almere/short-stirling/english-information
Children’s Book published in September 2020.www.almere.nl/over-almere/historie/erfgoedhuis/archeologie-in-almere/kinderboek-de-nacht-van-de-stirling-1
Martin Van Denzen – Producer /Host of ‘The Dutch Touch’ radio program e-mail: email@example.com
Raising the Canadian Flag at the Isle of Marken Memorial November 8th, 2020 youtu.be/sywqRW1IcKc