Halifax L9501 was one of six No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack railway targets at Duisburg on the night of the 28th / 29th August 1941.
Its seven-man crew comprised:
- Arthur Edward Charles Adkins (Pilot)
- Charles James Pearson (2nd Pilot)
- Harold Brelsford (Observer)
- Alfred James Manning (WOP / AG)
- Herbert Thompson (WOP / AG)
- Alfred William Rose (Air Gunner)
- Frederick William Hill (Flight Engineer)
L9501 failed to return and the squadron’s Operations Record Book shows “This aircraft was not heard of again and is now officially reported Missing”
Wartime activities relating to the loss
On 29th August 1941 the squadron informed Bomber Command, the Air Ministry and the RAF Records Office that the aircraft and crew were missing.
A telegram, along with a follow up letter from the Commanding Officer, was sent to the next of kin of each crew member advising them that he was “missing as the result of air operations on 28th / 29th August 1941”.
The crew’s kit and personal belongings were removed from their lockers and catalogued; kit was returned to stores and personal belongings sent to the RAF Central Depository at RAF Colnbrook.
The Air Ministry Casualty Branch, which was responsible for investigating, monitoring and reporting on the status of missing aircraft and airmen, subsequently published the following information regarding the crew:
- Air Ministry Communique No. 84 (Flight 06/11/1941) reported EC Adkins, H Brelsford, FW Hill, AJ Manning, CJ Pearson, AW Rose and H Thompson as “missing”
- Air Ministry Communique No. 115 (Flight 12/03/1942) reported EC Adkins, H Brelsford, FW Hill, AJ Manning, CJ Pearson, AW Rose and H Thompson, “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
Note: Presumption of death enabled a death certificate to be issued; personal belongings could then be returned to the next of kin, along with any monies due.
No. 35 Squadron’s Operations Record Book shows the following information was received relating to the crew:
- 04/10/1941: A telegram received through Air Ministry from the International Red Cross Society states that P/O Adkins and all members of his crew, missing on operations on 29th August, were killed
Post War search for the missing crew members
After the war, an investigation officer from the Royal Air Force Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES) was tasked with locating the remains of the missing crew member(s).
Original German documents, burial records and eye witness accounts were utilised to establish the location of the crash site, the cause of the loss and the initial fate of the crew; information was recorded in a MRES Investigation Report.
As part of the process, any remains that were located were exhumed, identified (wherever possible) and concentrated (reinterred) at one of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Cemeteries in the country that they fell, in accordance with Government policy at the time.
Graves were marked with a simple wooden cross, which was replaced by the familiar CWGC headstone during the 1950’s.
Missing airmen who could not be found, or formally identified, had their names commemorated on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, which was unveiled in 1953.
CWGC records show that the remains of all the crew members were located at Schermbeck Civil Cemetery.
Their remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) at REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY on 12th April 1947 as follows:
- ADKINS, ARTHUR EDWARD CHARLES Pilot Officer ‘101039’ Grave 17. A. 12.
- BRELSFORD, HAROLD Sergeant ‘1162052’ Grave 17. A. 10.
- HILL, FREDERICK WILLIAM Sergeant ‘902598’ Grave 17. A. 15.
- MANNING, ALFRED JAMES Sergeant ‘961238’ Grave 17. A. 13.
- PEARSON, CHARLES JAMES Pilot Officer ‘64268’ Grave 17. A. 11.
- ROSE, ALFRED WILLIAM Sergeant ‘746835’ Grave 17. A. 9.
- THOMPSON, HERBERT Sergeant ‘1052413’ Grave 17. A. 14.
Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)
Hit by 1,-3./Res. Flak Abt. 465; crashed at Gahlen, time unknown
Eye Witness Report (Courtesy of Matthias Hundt)
An eye-witness recalled these events:
Anytime an air-raid alarm sounded we joined our neighbours in the cellars in their houses, as we did not have one of our own.
During alarms our neighbour would run into the cellar and jump on the large, soft bed of straw as if it would help him in some way. It was hard for me and my brother not to start laughing! A dispute arose about this because our neighbour was quite angry about our behaviour.
After air-raids we would go outside and we sometimes found metal chips of German anti-aircraft shells. This was very easy when the metal pieces burst through the large panes of glass in my father’s greenhouses.
We did not always go into the cellar when enemy aircraft appeared in the skies. Sometimes we had a chance to watch the anti-aircraft artillery in action and observed the explosions getting closer to the airplanes. Watching this from the ground we would ask ourselves why the aeroplanes did not come down. They must have been totally perforated!
After the anti-aircraft shells exploded in the air the small metal chips fell down to earth with different sounds. Sometimes we heard other sounds when parts of aircraft came down when they had been hit by anti-aircraft guns or during air combat.
A large and solid anti-aircraft battery with 8.8 cm guns had been installed in the village of Gahlen on Brommel Road. Later even bigger 10.5 cm canons were erected. This battery was temporarily based in Kirchhellen-Ekel (anti-aircraft battery Peveling, at 8223 Road between Kirchhellen and Dorsten).
My father was a fireman responsible for the whole area. We always knew when he had been called for a fire alarm as his boots were fitted with nails and when we heard him walking through the house we knew that something had happened somewhere.
When he came back he told us what was going on in the village, just like in the morning of 28th August 1941.
My father told us that the fire brigade had been called to extinguish a fire at the crash site of an airplane. A huge British bomber had crashed very close to the Lippe River.
It had come down on fire and crashed in a shallow angle on the grass. The aircraft’s fuselage had been torn apart. The nose section, including the flight deck, was lying about 7 to 8 metres away from the main body of the plane.
As the fire brigade arrived the aircraft’s ammunition was still exploding. Nevertheless firemen tried to put out the fire on the flight deck in order to help some of the crewmen. My father told me that the strong jet of water blew away half of one crew member’s head. After that they adjusted the jet of water and focused on extinguishing the fire only. None of the crewmen was recovered alive.
In the morning a girl from the neighbourhood and I took our bicycles and made our way to the crash site, located behind Jansen’s tavern. They also used to provide a ferry boat service over the river at that time. We were standing at the fence for quite a while, watching the wreckage. But we did not get close to it.
There was one crew member lying on the grass on the other side of the river. We were told his parachute had got caught up on the aeroplane. He was obviously catapulted to the other side of the river on impact. His body lay there, covered with his parachute.
More and more people gathered at the site. After a while I thought it might be more interesting to cross the river, so we took our bicycles again and rode up the road.
As we approached the bridge over the canal I looked back. I saw that people were being allowed to walk around the wreckage. Since I was not part of that group of people I angrily went straight home.
At that time it was risky for civilian people to take pictures of scenarios like this. In addition to official photographs taken by an anti-aircraft artillery soldier a couple of private pictures were taken. As people were afraid that these pictures would be discovered they remained undeveloped in the camera until the end of the war. Only then people dared to take the film out of the camera in order to develop the pictures.
Later on the wreckage was dismantled by soldiers of an anti-aircraft artillery unit and transported to Schermbeck railway station. Parts were taken away for recycling, but this is something I did not see for myself.
At my father’s nursery I used to hear all the village news, as it was something like a stock exchange for news. Many times I stood next to the adults and listened when they were talking about different things, just like the plane crash. My father told me about the huge aircraft of the German air force, like the Focke Wulf Condor, but for me these were not as real as the one that had crashed close to the village.
But let us come back to the crash now. The bodies of the crew of the British bomber were recovered and taken to the funeral parlour at Schermbeck hospital. For the funeral they were loaded onto the wagon of the distributor and coal dealer Geldermann and were carried to Schermbeck municipal cemetery, accompanied by a platoon from an anti-aircraft artillery unit.
Arriving at the cemetery we saw a large hole which had apparently been excavated by French foreign workers employed by the brick factory Ton-und Pfalz.
After the coffins had been lowered into the open grave an officer stepped forward to salute. The guard of honour then moved away. There was no benediction or speech at the grave.
When the soldiers had gone 10 to 12 young boys, including myself, grabbed some big chunks of clay from the excavation and threw it on our enemies. This was our pay back to them, as they had bombed us before.
Later on wooden crosses showing the soldiers’ names were placed on the grave. They were of high quality and coated with protective varnish.
Many years later, in 2001, I talked to the farmer Leowald about this crash, whose farm was about 500 metres away from the crash site. This is what he told me:
Startled by the impact me and my Polish farm labourer ran to the crash site. Upon arrival we heard the crying crewmen, but we were not able to help. A quick access was impossible due to exploding ammunition.
The Schermbeck fire brigade made an attempt to extinguish the burning wreckage with water from the Lippe River whilst the aircraft’s ammunition was still exploding. Fuel spilled from the plane which floated on the river, causing further difficulties for the firemen.
AAA staff cleared the crash site later on and the airplane´s debris was taken to Schermbeck Railway Station; its 7 dead crew members were buried at the Schermbeck Cemetery.
The following link provides information on AEC Adkins’ operational sorties as Captain of a No. 35 Squadron aircraft and the composition of his crew on these sorties