Thursday, 01 March 2012 08:40

Family of Lancaster airman shot down over Holland, to visit his grave 68 years on

    THE family of a Second World War bomber crewman have located his grave 68 years after he was shot down over Holland.

    Hull-born flight engineer Sergeant John Benson, 23, was killed with seven others when their Lancaster bomber went down in May 1944. Now, through family tree websites, his cousin Pat Drew and her husband Bryan have discovered the airman's final resting place. Amazingly, as regular visitors to Holland, they have driven past the cemetery hundreds of times without realising its significance.
    Mr Drew, 73, of Flemingate, Beverley, said: "I was working on and was contacted to say a Dutch heritage group wanted information about British airmen who died in missions over south Holland in the Second World War. "When they gave me the name I was sure straightaway it was my wife's cousin."

    Mr Drew eventually spoke to Kees Stoutjesdijk from heritage organisation WO2GO. He was told Dutch groups caring for war graves had been looking for relatives of Sgt Benson for 68 years. The crewman's mother and Mrs Drew's grandmother grew up as sisters in Division Road, west Hull. Mrs Drew, 69, said: "My dad was his cousin, but my dad died in a road accident when I was eight and I didn't even know he had a cousin.

    "To think John's been there all that time with no one visiting – it's amazing that we've found out now."

    Following their experience of occupation in the war, the Dutch have a proud tradition of honouring allied servicemen who fought for their freedom. They were able to tell the Drews that Sgt Benson flew from RAF Ludford Magna in Lincolnshire on May 28, 1944. They were part of a secret squadron carrying radar- jamming equipment and aiming to bomb a German installation near Leopoldsburg in Belgium.

    Witnesses on the ground said the Lancaster appeared over Sommelsdijk, southern Holland, in the early hours but was shot down by a German night fighter.

    It crashed in a field behind a farm. An unexploded bomb on board went off and all the crewmen were killed. They were buried two days later at Sommelsdijk cemetery, 300 yards from the crash site. WO2GO organised and unveiled a memorial to the crash and wants to contact relatives of those who died so it can keep their memory alive in a book. Next week the Drews will visit Sgt Benson's grave for the first time.

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