By Pierre Kosmidis
They may have been killed over 7 decades ago, but their memory is still alive, thanks to the efforts of Planehunters, a group which has dedicated time and resources locating, unearthing and finding the human stories behind crashed WW2 aircraft in the area of Belgium.
Benny Ceulaers, Chairman of Planehunters Recovery Team, tells WW2 Wrecks the details behind every operation, the future plans and the importance of keeping the memory of those killed airmen alive for the young generation, raising awareness about the sacrifices made during WW2.
Here is Benny’s story, in his own words:
1/ When was the planehunters group established and what is its purpose?
I started Planehunters in 2006,i found a Spitfire and started to dig it up.
Then the Government contacted me that this was illegal.
I did not know this.
So then i founded Planehunters
2/ You have focused on 51 and 150 RAF squadrons. Tell us why and what have you found so far?
Our first memorial was a Halifax from 51 sqn,because of the work that we did researching this crash i came in contact with 51 sqn History Society.
They invited me for the anual reunion and from that day i told them i would try and find all the 51 and 150 sqn crashes in Belgium.
One of our good friends and 150 sqn veteran Robert “Bob” Frost is coming over every year to the comet line reunion.
We promised Bob that as long he is in good health and he is fit for the trip we will bring him from his house in Sandwich to Brussels for this reunion.
I have lost count of all the crashes that we found (laughing)
3/ When you locate the remains of a KIA airman, what are your first thoughts? How do you proceed with the identification and burial?
It is always a very strange moment because by the time we start digging we already have done a lot of research.
So we know who these men are.
We hand over the remains to the police and then it is the hands of the CWGC.
We had one reburial so far
4/ What is your most memorable find so far and why?
That depends from site to site,we always find interesting stuff.
One time i found a stopwatch and when i opened it the name of the crewmember was engraved.
I contacted the family and they came over so i gave the watch back to them.
That was special.
Later i saw this family again on the 51 sqn reunion and the sister of that crewmember gave me a card.
Attached on that card were the wings of this man,so again this was very special.
At first when i visited the Schoonselhof Cemetery in 2006 (that is the cemetery were all the graves are from the planes that came down in our region) i knew just one grave ,now when i go and visit the cemetery i can put a photo on almost all the graves.
5/ Do you work together with other groups, which ones and why?
Normaly we work on our own.
But if we have a big project we work together with the other teams. That depends witch region the crash site is.
We have a very good relationship with all the teams.
6/ Tell us a bit more about the exhibitions of items you are organising?
We don’t have a museum,we have donated some parts to museums in England,also some local pubs who have a relation to the airfields of ww2.
Sometimes we put up a small expo on the fly ins here in Belgium.
And when we unveil a memorial we always try to put up an expo about the plane and his crew.We also give lectures to schools and local History Societies.
7/ How important is it for the young generations to learn about the sacrifices made by young men 70+ years ago?
It is important that they are not forgotten,that is wy we put up these memorials,we always contact the local schools to do a project around the crash and that they keep the memorial clean.
8/ What is your next project and why did you choose it?
Our next project is very big, it is the full recovery of Lancaster NN775 ,on the scans that we took we can see that there is still a lot of the plane in the ground.I think this is going to be one of the biggest recoveries ever in Belgium.
We will do this with the BAHAAT team,if the weather is good we start digging on 11/11/2016.
We already have contacted the heritage centre at Waterbeach to put items on display in the museum.
Vice Chairman,research ,detecting
Jaimy “James” Breeze
Mark “Max” Verwimp