16/17.08.1941 99 Squadron Wellington IC X9700 LN-B F/O. Wells
Operation: Duisburg, Germany
Date: 16/17th August 1941 (Saturday/Sunday)
Unit: No. No: 99 Squadron
Type: Wellington Mk 1C
Base: RAF Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire
Location: Ophovenerveld in Neer, Netherlands
Pilot: F/O. Geoffrey Lloyd Wells AUS/404077 RAAF Age 26. Killed
Pilot 2: P/O Norman Dotchin 101480 RAFVR Age 19. Killed
Obs: P/O William Aloyisius Casey J/3270 RCAF Age 24. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Frederick Walter York 952493 RAFVR Age 25. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Gerald Crane 1181874 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Robert Meirion Williams 912087 RAFVR Age 25. PoW No: 6436. Camp: Stalag Luft III
REASON FOR LOSS:
Leaving RAF Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire
That same night at 02:15 AM, a Wellington belonging to 99 Squadron nicknamed Celon, was hit by Lt. Frank from Venlo airbase, after it was caught in the searchlights. The English aircraft started burning and came down with roaring engines. Since it was on its way to Germany, all the bombs were still on board. The bombs were dropped while the plane was descending towards the ground which caused the engine sounds to mingle in between with the sounds of the exploding projectiles.
The plane hit the ground at the “”Ophovenerveld” in Neer, where the debris was spread over a large area. A part of a wing fell on top of a farmhouse belonging to the Pijls family, right at the location where Mother Pijls used to sleep. She had just been buried the day before and the room had not been back in use yet. The whole roof was destroyed and the family was very moved by all that had happened.
In the vicinity of the wreckage lay the bodies of 5 dead crew members: Sgt. Crane, Sgt. York, P/O. Wells, P/O. Dotchin and P/O. Casey. They were buried at the military cemetery in Venlo, on August 19th, and were reburied in Nijmegen after the war. The sole survivor was Sgt. Bob Williams. He was able to leave the burning airplane just in time and landed his parachute on top of the roof of the farm belonging to the van Beeren family at “aan het Ophoven” in Roggel.
“One of the people of the Fire Department was able to free him from his uncomfortable position”, according to a statement in a report of the Community Field Watch G. Reinders from Roggel. He was then transferred to café (bar) Mennen by stretcher. The emergency post of the local air defense was located there.
One of the daughters, Mrs Trui Timmermans-Mennen, still remembers the event very well:
“That night the air alarm signal had been given and the German Flak positions in the area were firing all night long. The whole family was sitting together when suddenly people from the air defence service came in to pick up the stretcher. They came back a little while later. There was an airman lying on top of the stretcher. After arrival he carefully got up and positioned himself on top of the couch which was located underneath the window. He was still wearing his flying helmet, goggles and thick grey coveralls. Apparently he had a pain in his back because he kept constantly pointing at it. Piet Kooimans of the air defence service was the only person who could speak a couple words of English. My father gave the Englishman a drink to help him come to his senses again. Doctor De Maat, who had been warned by the air defence service, performed first aid on him. Shortly afterwards the Germans entered the bar. They wanted us to go to the back of the building, but my father refused. An officer briefly talked to the injured airman but he barely replied. A short while later he was transferred away by ambulance, probably towards the hospital in Venlo. In 1955 we were able to get back in contact with Sgt. Bob Williams with help of a newspaper article. Our contact has been maintained till this day, and we still visit each other regularly, from father Mennen’s point of view, already the 4th generation."
Left: F/O. Wells, P/O. Dotchin and P/O. Casey (courtesy of the Casey family archives)
In an interview with Radio Kent a couple of years ago, Sgt. Bob Williams told the following about his last flight:
“I was shot down on my seventeenth mission. Our target was Duisburg, but unfortunately it was one of those nights that we had to fly in any case. Our pilot was pretty seriously ill. He had the flu. The crew had problems with that but Flight Command told us to go anyway. When we had left the Belgian coastline behind us, we noticed the searchlights all over the place. There was no flak to be seen, so there had to be night fighters around. Suddenly we ended up in the middle of the searchlights. Under normal conditions the pilot would most probably have been able to shake them off, but as I mentioned before, he wasn’t top fit that night. We were then attacked by a night fighter and that became the beginning of the end. What I clearly remember is that I opened the door of the nose turret so that the gunner could come out. I saw the navigator standing up from his chair and the next moment I noticed that the plane was spinning over on its wing and that we were on fire. I received the assignment to head back to the observer turret to keep an eye on our attacker, but since they were black I couldn’t see them immediately.
Suddenly I saw tracers hitting us. Our wing caught fire and I went back immediately. I thought this was the end. The next thing I remembered was that we dove down and that I fell down like a bullet from an altitude of 5,500 metres. At around 1,000 m. above the ground I almost automatically pulled the parachute handle and I heard how the little parachute opened. A little later I ended up on top of a roof with a big bang. I didn’t know where I was. I was laying upside down for a couple of minutes when I started to feel that I was slipping down. I remember thinking that I had fallen down all the way towards the ground, to be laying there with my head pointing upside down on top of a roof. I was able to straighten up a little bit with help of my parachute cords. Suddenly I saw some light beams and I heard voices. I didn’t know what language it was, perhaps German, but one way or another they got up on the roof from the side and someone from the fire department picked me up and carried me down. It hurt quite a lot because I had broken a couple of ribs and my sternum. They carried me to a small bar.
Sgt. Williams, Sgt. Crane and Sgt. York (courtesy of the Casey family archives)I was in the Netherlands, to be exact, in Ophoven near the village of Roggel not far from Venlo and Eindhoven. I was put on a couch inside of the bar and after half an hour a man in completely black clothing appeared. He took off his hat and came up to me, opened his suitcase and took something out and gave me a shot of morphine. Afterwards he put everything back in his suitcase and left. Years later I sought contact with these people.
The man in black was Doctor de Maat. We have talked to each other many times since that point. I always carried some kind of lucky charm with me. It was a golden bird that I gave to the daughter (of the bar owner?). I also gave my cigarette case with lighter away, to prevent the Germans from taking it. A little while later a couple of German soldiers arrived to guard me. They took my cigarettes away from me and asked me something. I didn’t give them a reply, though. Afterwards a German Hauptman entered.
As long as I will live I will never forget that moment.
He spoke better English than I did. He told me that he had been educated at King’s College in London. He asked me if I wanted to smoke and handed me a cigarette. “Haven’t you got any cigarettes of your own?” he asked and then I told him that the two German guards had taken them from me. A bit of typical German discipline followed right afterwards. He made a small sign with his gloves, which he was holding in his hand, towards the guards, and I immediately received my cigarettes back. Since I was injured, I didn’t have an opportunity to get out of there with help of the resistance.
A Luftwaffe ambulance arrived and took me to a hospital in Krefeld. I stayed there for about 8 weeks. After that I ended up in one of the Stalag Luft camps where I was eventually liberated by the Russians. In 1955 I wrote a letter to the mayor of Venlo in which I requested to get in contact with the people who had helped me back then. The newspapers published an ad and a lot of responses came in. Eventually it turned out that I had ended up with the Mennen family in Roggel. I had a lot to thank to those people for. We became friends from that point on and still visit each other regularly.”
F/O. Geoffrey Lloyd Wells. Jonkerbos War Cemetery. Grave 16.G.4. Son of Henry Leslie and Elsie Irene Wells, of Auchenflower, Queensland, Australia.
P/O Norman Dotchin. Jonkerbos War Cemetery. Grave 16.G.3. Son of Norman A. and Emily Dotchin, of Bedford, England.
P/O William Aloyisius Casey. Jonkerbos War Cemetery. Grave 16.G.2. Son of John D. and Helen McNally Casey, of Ridgetown, Ontario, Canada
Sgt. Frederick Walter York. Jonkerbos War Cemetery. Grave 16.G.5. Son of Walter George and Florence Lizzie York, of Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England.
Sgt. Gerald Crane. Jonkerbos War Cemetery. Grave 16.G.1. Son of George H. and Beatrice E. Crane, of Sherborne, Dorsetshire, England.
Researched by Don Christopher and dedicated to all the relatives of the crew.