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1941-11-02 The loss of Henk Pronk

Crash site: Bodelwyddan, Denbighshire, Wales, GB, 32 km Northwest of RAF Hawarden

Crash cause: flying accident, collision during combat flying training

Name

Pronk, Hendrik Wilhelmus

Dutch RAF aviator datasheet



Hawarden 070127 Pronk HW


Rank

P/O.

RAF VR 107918

Decorations

None known

Born

14/11/1917

Place

Weltevreden, Java, NEI

Squadron

No. 57 OTU

Ops/hr

0/0

Aircraft

Spitfire Mk. Vb Nr. N3066 (unconfirmed)

Base

RAF Hawarden, Flintshire, GB

Mission

Combat flying training

Status

Killed at about 16.45h when he collided with Sgt. P.L.M. Morau, Spitfire Nr. P9559, during a head-on attack exercize. Sgt. Morau was killed too

age

29

Killed

2/11/1941

Place

Kinmel Park, Bodelwyddan, Denbighshire, Wales, GB

Buried

Hawarden No. 1 Cemetery, grave 4/G/84 (CWGC & OGS), or better mil. plot/D/1

Known to

OGS

yes

CWGC

yes

Other crew

N.a.

Memorial

Soesterberg

yes

Memorial

Other

yes

Mill Hill Memorial Table, London, GB

Mill Hill Pronk HW

GB arrival

He came from Australia as gunner on an armed merchant ship

Remarks

Son of Alexander Joseph Pronk and Lucia Johanna Carolina Bor

Data confusion

1. Grave numbering reported by CWGC and OGS does not match the current burial situation

2. OGS: place of death unknown

3. OGS: mentioned as 2Lt Vl ML, but he did not hold a Dutch rank

Erwin van Loo, 6/2/2007:

Archief Ministerie van Oorlog, 2.13.71, inv. Nr. 477

Nota voor den Minister dtv lt.gen. v/d Vijver, d.d. 11-11-1941:

Ik moge UE berichten dat op 2 november j.l. de Pilot Officer Pronk, H.W. t.g.v. een vliegongeluk om het leven is gekomen. Het ongeluk geschiedde te ca. 1645 uur op het vliegveld Hawarden, waar een andere Spitfire in een gevechtsoefening tegen Pronks Spitfire opvloog, waarna het laatste toestel in brand vloog. Pilot Officer Eendenburg en Pilot Officer Van der Stok hebben bij de begrafenis UE vertegenwoordigd.

Er onder in pen geschreven mededeling: '14/11/41. P/O H.W. Pronk is geen Nederlandse militair en werd ook niet als zodanig bij de RAF gedetacheerd. Hij is afkomstig uit Australie.'

Pronk was ten tijde van zijn ongeval ingedeeld bij 57 OTU en is - volgens mijn gegevens - niet omgekomen in een Spitfire maar in een Miles Master Mk I samen met Sergeant Pierre Louis Marie MORAU, 21, 1380465 RAF VR, afkomstig van Mauritius. Morau is begraven in graf 4F.84 op Hawarden. Pronk's militaire nummer was 107918.

Source: NIMH, Erwin van Loo, 6/2/2007

The Operations Record Book of No. 57 OTU holds the following statement:

Source: National Archives, Kew, GB, with thanks to Steve Brew

Sgt. Morau was killed also. Age 21, son of Marie Louis Jules Morau and Jeanne Anne Marie Morau, of Mauritius. He is known to the CWGC, and stated to be buried in Hawarden, grave 4/F/84. A grave position indication that is problematic; see the Chapter on Hawarden Cemetery. Grave 4/F/84 would be directly in front of Pronk's grave, 4/G/84. However, at this position has been buried por. R. Suwalski, Polish, who died 26/1/1942 whilst flying with No. 57 OTU. We found Morau's grave as the utmost right one in the last row, or mil plot/D/11. Pronk is buried at the extreme left of that same row. Morau is buried under a standard issue CWGC RAF headstone.

Sgt. P.L.M. Morau studied in Paris, but he may not have held the French nationality, as he is not mentioned in Col. Henri Lafont's 'Aviateurs de la liberté', meaning that he was probably not registered with the Free French Airforce.

Henk Pronk's brother Lieuwe was found to be in his last days, living with his granddaughter Kerry in Australia. Lieuwe's youngest son Henk was able to give more details from the family archive:

I am the youngest of three son's born to Lieuwe Alexander Pronk. I am 61 years old, and my brothers are Antonie (63) and Lieuwe (65). We were all born in Sydney, and as our mother was Australian, we never had the oppurtunity to learn Dutch. I spent my career in the Australian Army as a helicopter pilot, retiring some ten years ago. Flying seems to be in the genes, as my oldest brother was an airline pilot, and my other brother also got his private pilots licence.

The Batavia connection goes back to my paternal grandfather Alexander Joseph Pronk, who was born in Arnhem on 15 Jan 1892. He and his two brothers (Rinze and Jan) joined the Koninklyke Paketvaart Maatschappy (Royal Packet Navigation Company, or KPM) in the NEI when they were still in their late teens or early twentys. Dad thinks his father arrived in Batavia (Jakarta) early in 1912. Of the three, only Jan went to sea. He died of pneumonia at the age of 21 and was buried in Penang.

My grandfather married a young Dutch schoolteacher named Lucia Johanna Carolina Bor in Batavia on 4 Aug 1913. My father was born there on 21 Dec 1914, followed by Henk (Hendrik Willem) on 14 Nov 1917, Jan on 12 Mar 1919, Lucy on 28 Apr 1921, Betty on 3 Feb 1924 and Peter on 27 Apr 1928. By 1921 my grandfather was manager of the KPM Singapore office; in 1922 he took over as the manager for Australasia, based in Sydney; and in 1931 he was appointed as a director of the company, based in Batavia. The three oldest children - Lieuwe, Henk and Jan - remained in boarding school in Australia, while Lucy Betty and Peter accompanied their parents to Batavia.

I will not go into much more detail here, but can if you wish. It was designed as a scene setter. The key details are as follows:

- 23 Oct 1937, Henks mother died aged 45

- 1938 Henks father took over as president of KPM

- late 1938 my father arrived in Batavia to start work with KPM

- late 1939/early 1940 Henks father collapsed at work and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He returned to Holland for specialist treatment in May 1940, just before the German occupation

- despite two operations, he died in Holland on 22 Jan 1943, one week before his 51st birthday.

Henk, my namesake, was born in Batavia on 14 Nov 1917, and was named after his mothers brother. Physically he took after his father, with a dark complexion and deep brown eyes. Along with my father and his brother Jan, Henk attended boarding school - first at 'Tudor House' in Moss Vale, and later at 'Shore' in Sydney. Henk did not excell in any aspect of his schooling, and passed neither his intermediate nor leaving exams. He left school at the end of 1935 and joined a company called Dalgety and Company Limited, working in their Stock and Station department (basically support to rural industry) in Wagga Wagga, a rural town in southern New South Wales. Here Henk joined the local aero club and learned to fly. His first flight (effects of control) was in a DH60 on 7 Dec 1938.

Henk continued flying with the aero club until 18 Oct 1939, by which time he had a total of 30 hours 15 minutes - all on DH60 aircraft. On the day World War 2 was declared, Henk volunteered to join the RAAF. To his amazement he was rejected as an alien, as he was still a Dutch citizen. He resigned from Dalgetys and signed on as a gunner on an armed merchant ship bound for England. On his arrival he was accepted by the RAF and commenced flying training at No 11 Elementary Flying Training School at Perth in Scotland on Apr 1941.

On 7 May 1941 Henk flew his first solo in a DH82 Tiger Moth, and remained on Tigers until 5 Jun 1941. By this time he had accumulated a total of 51 hr 35 min on Tigers, half of this time solo. He had also done 6 hr link trainer time, and was rated as 'Above average' by the CFI. In June Henk moved to A Sqn, No 8 FTS and commenced his intermediate and advanced training.

From 25 Jun to 7 Sep 41 Henk flew with 8 FTS, mostly on Miles Masters, although from 17 Aug on he flew a number of sorties in Hurricanes (about 10hr 15min). On his completion of training with 8 FTS his log book records that he was an 'Above the Average' pilot, and that his 'Personal qualities & flying ability will make him an excellent fighter pilot.'

On Sep 26 Henk had his first flight with 57 OTU. His first four flights were on the Master, and on 29 Sep 41 he first flew a Spitfire. From then to his crash he flew mostly in Spitfires, with only the odd trip in a Master. The last entry in his log book shows a grand total of flying hours of 166hr 50min, which does not include the total of 46hr 20min that he flew in DH 60s with the Riverina Aero Club in Wagga. He flew 10hr 15min in Hawker Hurricanes and 33hr 30min in Spitfires. (by way of comparison, in my Army flying training, before I graduated as an operational pilot I flew 129hr 40min in a Winjeel - single engined FW trainer - at No 1 FTS, and a further 170hr 15min on a Bell Sioux G3B1 - a total of 299hr 55min.)

An extract from (I believe) 'Malta Pilot', author not known, describes Henk's accident:

'Under such circumstances we had our fair share of crack-ups, fatal and otherwise, tragic and comic. Of my flight, totalling fifteen pupils, two were killed at OTU, Pronk, an Australian, and Moreau, a lad from South America. They were practising head-on attacks over the coast, pulled out too late and collided. Moreau's ship simply blew to pieces, and he hadn't a chance to bail out. Pronk hit a hillside before he could get his aircraft under control and himself out of the cockpit.'

I have much more, including photos and the telegram informing my father of Henk's death. Let me know if you would like any more information, as I would dearly love to see his story told. I find it poignant that the RAAF would not accept him, and the efforts he made to contribute. The Dutch/Australian slant is one that gives me great pride. I should mention that my own father was a non-combatant, serving as the liaison officer for the KPM shipping, which at that time were about the only remaining ships supporting operations in New Guinea - another great story. My uncle John (Jan) had an incredible war career. He got a job with the Anglo Dutch Tea Estates at Soebang, in the West Java mountains around the end of 1940 early 1941. A bad move. John was called up for military service, and when Java fell he was taken POW. First he was sent to work on the Burma railway, and having survived that, was sent to Japan as a slave labourer working in the coal mines at Nagasaki. John was actually underground at the time the atomic bomb was dropped, and survived to be repatriated to Australia in 1946. He died in Australia some five years ago.

Source: Henk Pronk, 17 & 23/2/2007


Map 14. Kinmel Park, Bodelwyddan, Denbighshire, Wales Crash area of H.W. Pronk and P.L.M. Morau on 2/11/1941. The sites have not been pinpointed.

Bodelwyddan, section of Kinmel Park looking North towards the Irish Sea Bodelwyddan Kinmel Park 080201-4



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