By Pierre Kosmidis
Photos and Research: Cynrik De Decker, Frédéric Pauwels/Collectif Huma, Planehunters and BAHAAT (click links in RED for further reading).
It is thanks to the efforts of Aviation enthusiasts that the world finally found out about the sad fate of 7 airmen killed in action in the last days of World War Two.
Buried deep in Belgian soil, the wreckage of an Avro Lancaster bomber, along with the remains of some of the crew, personal effects and many other items, were carefully dug out.
The human remains were respectfully exhumed and will be examined by scientists before being transferred to the competent authorities for burial, over 7 decades since they were killed, thus bringing closure to their families and solving a mystery that lasted for so long.
On March 5, 1945, an RAF Lancaster bomber crashed into a meadow of the Flemish village of Bunsbeek (now part of Glabbeek municipality). The whole crew perished and rests now at Heverlee Military Cemetery (nr. Louvain).
Two local Aviation enthusiasts, André Bruyninckx and Ben Cleynens contacted Mayor Peter Reekmans.
A preliminary detection revealed that many parts of the Lancaster were still buried on the spot. This was confirmed during a magnetometric scan by Bom-Be, which revealed that the whole silhouette of the wartime bomber is still visible.
Two well-known Flemish battlefield archaeologists, Simon Verdegem and Maarten Bracke, joined the team in order to guarantee that this project, with permission of the Flemish official archaeological board, would be conducted in a scientific way.
A preliminary dig and geophysical survey proved that most of the Lancaster bomber is still buried, though in a battered and damage state and this archaeological project revealed a unique insight in this particular aspect of aerial warfare, more than 70 years ago.
Among other debris, a number of objects were also found which are directly related to the crew: a wrist watch, oxygen masks, parts of the electrically heated garments, a uniform cap, and a number of British coins.
The seven airmen killed when Lancaster NN775 crashed:
Pilot: F/O Holman Kerr (23 years, from Co Armagh, Northern Ireland)
Navigator: F/Sgt Sidney Smith (21 years)
Air bomber: F/O Frank Clarke
Wireless operator: F/Sgt Allan Olsen (20 years – from Toowoomba, Australia)
Flight engineer: Sgt William Marsden (20 years – from Croston)
Mid upper gunner: Sgt Christopher Hogg (20 years, from South Yardley, Birmingham)
Rear gunner : Sgt Herbert Thomas (23 years – from Jamaica).