29/30.03.1943 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron Stirling III BK716 HA:J Fg Off. John F. Harris
Date: 29th/30th March 1943 (Monday/Tuesday)
Unit No: 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron - motto: 'In Time'
Type: Stirling III
Base: RAF Downham Market, Norfolk
Location: Markermeer, Netherlands
Pilot: Fg Off. John Frederick Harris 118128 RAFVR Age 29. MiA
Flt Eng: Sgt. Ronald Kennedy 1487492 RAFVR Age 22. MiA
Nav: Fg Off. Harry Gregory Farrington J11241 RCAF Age 24. MiA
Bomb Aimer: Sgt. Charles Armstrong Bell 1027864 RAFVR Age 29. MiA
WOp/Air Gnr: Fg Off. John MIchael Campbell 122910 RAFVR Age 30. MiA
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. Leonard Richard James Shrubsall 1251519 RAFVR Age 30. MiA
Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. John Francis James McCaw R105188 RCAF Age 20. MiA
Update January 2020: Understood that the wreckage has now been discovered and a recovery is planned for March 2020. It is thought possible that the crew bodies may well still be in the wreckage and that they can be provided a fitting burial.
Update 31st August 2020: Thanks to Eric Tholens for pointing out a Dutch webpage for the "De Telegraaf" which has posted an article regarding the salvage of Stirling III BK716.
Translation of the article:
Salvage of war wreck started in Markermeer
British Short Stirling bomber brought down in World War II. On board of the wreckage are possibly the remains of the seven Canadian and British crew members.
The Ministry of Defence thinks the job will take four to five weeks, depending on the weather conditions. Only during the work will it become clear whether the missing aircraft has actually been found since the war, for example because an engine part with a serial number is found, according to a spokeswoman for the municipality.
The BK716 disappeared during the return journey of a mission over Germany.
Because there may still be ammunition aboard the crashed aircraft, the water bottom around the bomber is first dug out with a GPS-controlled excavator. This gives the rescuers enough space to work safely, according to the Ministry of Defence.
Almere has a children's book and a documentary made about the salvage. The British artist Laura O'Neill creates a work of art from part of the remains of the aircraft. This will be unveiled next year in the Bos der Onverzetelijken in Almere. The forest is a national resistance monument for all Dutch people who were shot by the German occupying forces during the war years.
Update 5th September 2020: Thanks to Hans van der Kooij for pointing out a Dutch webpage "AD.nl" which has posted an article regarding the latest news of the salvage of Stirling III BK716.
Translation of the article:
Wreck in Markermeer appears to be missing British bomber
It is now established that the wreckage at the bottom of the Markermeer near Almere is the missing British Short Stirling bomber BK716. Dredgers have recovered one of the engine blocks with a serial number on it. On board of the bomber were seven crew members at the time. The municipality of Almere informed the relatives of the crew, according to a spokeswoman.
The BK716 disappeared in 1943 during the Second World War on its return from a mission over Germany. The wreckage was found in 2008 when part of the landing gear surfaced during other work in the Markermeer. But it is only through the discovery of the engine block that it can be said with certainty that the missing Short Stirling BK716 has been recovered.
The municipality of Almere is 'delighted' with the result. It is a confirmation for the next of kin of the crewmembers who have thus gained certainty about the fate of their family member", declared alderman Hilde van Garderen to Omroep Flevoland.
The salvage workers of the Royal Netherlands Air Force and a contractor started the salvage work on Monday, which is expected to take four to five weeks. The salvage is part of the National program for the recovery of aircraft wrecks, which the Netherlands started in 2019. It is estimated that there are still thirty airplane wrecks in the Dutch soil in which mortal remains are most likely still to be found. The Netherlands wants to give next of kin certainty about the fate of pilots who went missing during the war.
Update 9th October 2020: Thanks to Patrick Dirksen from Tristar Aviation for the following images of the recovery of Stirling BK716.
Left: Both pontoons used for the salvage process on the Markermeer; Right: The GPS controlled digger.
Left: Serial BK716 still readable on the inside of a panel from the starboard outer engine; Right: The serial number of the first engine found, proving the identity of BK716.
Left: A fire extinguisher, with one of the control wheels; Right: One of many instruments found.
One of the massive main landing gears
Left: The engine that was found first, proving the identity of BK716; Right: Inside of the propeller mechanism.
Update 7th January 2021: Aviation News Journal article reporting on the recovery of Stirling III BK716 (Courtesy of Patrick Dirksen and Frank Mink of Tristar Aviation.
Update 7th August 2021: Richard McCaw has informed us that the artwork, which is being made in remembrance of the lost crew of the Short Stirling BK716, is almost finished. The bronze casting took place recently. The artwork will be placed at the Bos der Onverzettelijken (Field of the Unyielding) on the 12th October 2021. During the commemoration ceremony the artwork will be unveiled. Richard and other living relatives of the airmen of BK716 have planned to be in attendance.
Update 26th October 2021: Richard McCaw has provided images and a video of the Commemoration ceremony for the Short Stirling BK716.
One image is from the Flt Sgt. John Francis James McCaw’s side of the monument. The monument is located in the Resistance Memorial Park (Bos der Onverzettelijken), literally means “Forest of the Unyielding". It was planted in 1992 with trees for all resistance fighters who were executed during the Second World War.
The image of a young pilot is facing towards the descendant of the Anne Frank tree. The original Anne Frank tree in Amsterdam died a few years ago.
The Dutch inscription on the four sides of the plinth translates to read "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".
Update 4th October 2022: Below: Shadow box that contains Sgt Charles Bell's cigarette lighter and pieces of his uniform identified by his stencilled number. It was presented to Joyce Stout and John Wharton by the Dutch military that had recovered the items from the BK716 wreckage. (Courtesy of Richard Grant McCaw)
Update 4th April 2023: Richard McCaw has informed us that was an e-magazine for BK716 was published on March 30th by the Municipality of Almere and marks 80 years since Short Stirling bomber BK716 crashed in the former Lake IJsselmeer in the Netherlands.
Update 12th September 2023: A full military burial ceremony has been held in the Netherlands on the 28th September 2022 at CWGC Jonkerbos War Cemetery for the British and Canadian crew of an RAF Stirling BK716 which went missing in 1943.
Above the Headstone for the members of crew of Stirling BK716 (Courtesy of Richard McCaw)
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off from Downham Market at 21:30 hrs. to bomb the heart of Germany, Berlin, along with 328 other bombers. The flight out was hampered by heavy icing and electrical storms over the North Sea which forced 120 aircraft to return.
The remainder continued and met heavy night fighter resistance in the calmer weather conditions over the continent. Night fighter squadrons engaged from their bases at Twenthe and Deelen claiming 9 from the Berlin attackers.
Nothing was heard from Stirling BK716 and may have been the Stirling claimed by Lt. Werner Rapp and his Bordfunker Uffz. Ortmann, his 4th Abschuss and their 2nd for this night, from the 7./NJG1 at 4300m at 04:49 hrs, flying Bf110 G-4 G9+CR. (The victory was confirmed on the 26th November 1944). Although the aircraft has not been identified the claim was in the loss area of 2- 4km ESE of Marken Island and fits with the recent recovery operations for Stirling BK716. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (1 January - 22 June) 1943 Part 1 - Theo Boiten)
Accuracy regarding the damage caused by the allied bombers is disputed, however, German sources claimed that 148 people were killed on the ground and the same number of buildings totally destroyed. The Allied attack cost the Allies dear with 21 aircraft lost.
The crew members signed the reverse of the photograph Sgt. Kennedy, Fg Off. Campbell, Flt Sgt. McCaw, Fg Off. Harris, Fg Off. Farrington, Sgt. Shrubsall, Sgt. Bell. (courtesy Steve Smith). Pictured here during training at 1657 HCU prior to posting to 218 Squadron on 9th February 1943.
However, information provided by relatives has brought into question that the assumption the order of the signatures of the crew depict their respective positions in the photograph:
The following are the observations we have received:
1. The nephew of Fg Off. Campbell maintains that Fg Off. Campbell is 3rd from the left. However, John Wharton, the son of Frances (née Bell) Wharton, confirms that Fg Off. Campbell's position is as depicted, 2nd from the left.
2. Greg McGrath informs us that that Fg Off. Harris has been identified by his sister as being 5th from the left.
3. Photographic evidence from Ancestry.co.uk confirms that Flt Sgt. McCaw is depicted 6th from the left.
4. Photographic evidence provided by Fiona Taylor-Williams, the niece of Fg Off. Farrington, confirms that he depicted as 5th from the left.
5. The definitive identification of the airmen in the photograph has been provided by Richard McCaw and John Wharton as follows:
Left to right on the photograph: Sgt. Kennedy, Sgt Bell, Fg Off Campbell, Fg Off. Harris, Fg Off. Farrington, Sgt. McCaw, Sgt. Shrubsall.
Above: SNCOs from Fg Off. Harris’s crew
Left to right: Sgt Shrubsall, Flt Sgt. McCaw, Sgt Bell, Sgt Kennedy. Note: Sgt Kennedy smiles in most in the crew photographs (Courtesy of Richard Grant McCaw)
Above Left: Sgt Bell and Right: Sgt. Shrubsall (Courtesy of Richard McCaw)
Above: Sgt. McCaw, left standing outside of his "office" and right next to the main wheel of a Stirling (Courtesy of Richard McCaw)
Left: Fg Off. Farrington with who it is believed to be his mother Bertha and sister Edith Mary; Right: Fg Off. Harry Gregory Farrington. (Courtesy of Fiona Taylor-Williams)
Above: Panels at one of the Runnymede Memorial corridors.
Fg Off. John Frederick Harris. Runnymede Memorial Panel 124. Son of George and Ada Harris, husband of Mary Elizabeth Harris, of Swindon, Wiltshire, England.
Sgt. Ronald Kennedy. Runnymede Memorial Panel 155. Son of John James Kennedy, and of Emma Kennedy, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, England.
Fg Off. Harry Gregory Farrington. Runnymede Memorial Panel 173. Born on the 4th June 1918 in Toronto, Ontario. Son of Arnold Percival and Bertha (née Gregory) Farrington, of Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Husband to Kathleen J. Farrington from London, England.
Sgt. Charles Armstrong Bell. Runnymede Memorial Panel 142. Son of James A. and Elizabeth Bell, husband of Frances Bell, of 10 Quebec Street, Langley Park, County Durham, England. Francis later remarried a John Wharton, she is understood to have passed away in 2003.
Fg Off. John MIchael Campbell. Runnymede Memorial Panel 123. Son of Bernard and Alberta Annie Campbell, husband of Vera Elma Margaret Campbell, of Golders Green, Middlesex, England.
Sgt. Leonard Richard James Shrubsall. Runnymede Memorial Panel 164. Son of Richard and Ada Shrubsall, husband of Beatrice May Shrubsall, of Iwade, Kent, England.
Flt Sgt. John Francis James McCaw. Runnymede Memorial Panel 182. Born 23rd February 1923, in Bancroft, Hastings, Ontario. Son of Harry Wallace and Marjorie Alice (née Fairfield) McCaw of Belleville, Ontario, Canada.
Sgt. McCaw's notification of his promotion to Flt Sgt. was posted retrospectively to his death and was with effect from the 27th October 1942.
Researched by Steve Smith 218 (Gold Coast) Sqn Association Historian. Thanks to Patrick Dirksen for the correction to the original accompanying identification for the crew photograph (Oct 2020). Thanks also to Patrick Dirksen for the images of the recovery operation and the recovered remains of BK716 (Oct 2020). Thanks to Patrick Dirksen for the Aviation News Journal article. (Jan 2021). Update for nightfighter claim by Aircrew Remembered (Jan 2021). Thanks to Fiona Taylor-Williams, the niece of Fg Off. Farrington for the images and confirmation of his identity in the crew image (Feb 2021). Other updates by Aircrew Remembered (Feb 2021). Thanks to Richard McCaw for the definitive crew identification, new crew images and other corrections. (Feb 2021). Thanks to Richard McCaw for then images and video for the commemoration ceremony (Oct 2021). Thanks to Richard McCaw for the Shadow Box image and SNCO photograph (Oct 2022). Thanks to Medals Reunited of New Zealand for the updated Squadron crest (Oct 2022). Thanks to Richard McCaw for the link to the e-magazine for BK716 (Apr 2023). Thanks to Richard McCaw for the photograph of the headstone (Sep 2023).
Other resources listed below: