During the night of 16 to 17 June, 1943, around 01:00 hours, a Lancaster bomber exploded in mid air over the hamlet of Grote Heide in the municipality of Neerpelt. The bits and pieces were blown apart over a large area that borders to the nature reserve Hageven. All seven crewmembers perished.
The four engined Lancaster ED629 PH-K of nr 12 Squadron of the British Royal Air Force was carrying approximately 4000 kilograms of bombs. The aircraft had taken off from the airport of Wickenby in Lincolnshire together with 15 other bombers. Their mission was to bomb Cologne. That night the attack on Cologne was carried out by 220 aircraft from the RAF.
The crew consisted of:
- Sgt. Pilot Arthur C. Aylard, RAF, 29 years of age from Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex.
- Flight Engineer Sgt. Joseph Scott, RAF, 22 years of age from Deckham (Gateshead, Co Durham).
- Navigator Sgt. Thomas Alexander, RAF, 30 years of age from Edinburgh.
- Bombardier Sgt. Marice Roy Williams, RAF, 21 years of age from Surbiton, Surrey.
- Radio-operator Sgt. Henry Joseph Patrick Lackey, RAF, 31 years of age from West End, Woking, Surrey.
- Nosegunner Sgt. John Wilfried NoŽl Westlake, RAF, 28 years of age from Mars Mills, Plympton, Devon.
- Tailgunner Sgt. Rex Swain, RAF, 19 years of age from Langford, Bedfordshire.
After the crash, the German occupying forces buried the crew in the cemetery of the airport of Brustem (Sint-Truiden). This airbase was used by German fighter aircraft to attack bomber aircraft of the RAF. After the war, the crew received a last resting place on the British military cemetery in Heverlee (Louven).
Lancaster ED629 was shot down by the German Flight Lieutenant Werner Baake. He was flying a Messerschmitt Bf110 that night. The German occupying forces cut out the picture of a kangaroo from the fuselage of the crashed Lancaster (see photograph.)
In order to memorize the crew of the shot down aircraft the local heritage society attached a plaque at the corner of the Achelsedijk and Polstraat in Grote Heide.
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- Text: Heemkundekring Neerpelt
- Photos: Ben Harmsen