With a population of 360 in the year 2007, Sluipwijk, the Netherlands is a small spot on the map. Still, traces of the Second World War can be found here.
From the Royal Air Force Station Binbrook in 1943, near Brokenby in England, exactly 13 minutes before 10 pm, an Avro Lancaster Mark 1 takes off from the airfield heading for Düsseldorf in Germany. It’s mission is to bomb the industrial zone and slow down the military production of German army.
The 5 months long operation was called “the Battle for the Ruhr” and was a strategic bombing campaign against the industrial Ruhr area. The industry consisted of steelworks, coke plants and 10 synthetic oil plants. The Krupp armament works, manufacturer of artillery and tank guns, the Nordstern Synthetic Oil plant, Rheinmetal – Borsig in Düsseldorf manufacturer of the MG42 and 88mm flak gun are examples of factories in the Ruhr area.
The Avro Lancaster with number W4960 was part of a bomber run consisting of more than 760 aircraft which flew on 11 and 12 June 1943. 326 Lancasters – 212 Halifaxes – 158 Wellingtons – 24 Victorias and 43 Mosquitos participated in this raid. The Mosquitos flew up front and placed the marker for the bombers. Unfortunately one missed target by 23 kilometres (14 miles) to the north east. A part of the bomber group followed marked target and missed their objectives as well. The main part of the bomber group did hit their designated target. The results of the main attack on the city centre was devastating, and was the biggest damaging raid for the city during the Second World War. Halve a square kilometre (130 acres) of the city of Düsseldorf was laid to ruins. With more than 1200 death and 300.000 wounded on top of that 16 churches and 13 hospitals left behind in ruins and the docks were badly damaged. Over 1500 acres of industrial area was severely damaged. More than half of the glass reticulation system and over a third of the electrical, water and sewer systems were destroyed. 30.000 homes were destroyed and 20.000 damaged.
The fires could be clearly seen as other bomber groups in the Battle of the Rhine, crossed the Dutch borders from the sea some 200 kilometres away.
On this bomb run 5% of the aircraft involved were destroyed due to aerial defence of mechanical failure. The casualties consist of 38 Lancasters – 12 Halifaxes – 10 Wellingtons and 2 Mosquitos.
Somewhere on the mission the Avro Lancaster W4960 got into trouble, and on its way back above the Netherlands it crashed near the hamlet of Sluipwijk on the 12th of June 1943 at 02:05 hrs, taking its entire crew with her, none survived.
The crew was buried in Sluipwijk after the crash, in later years the crew was reburied in the Jonkerbos War Cemetery in the city of Nijmegen. A gravestone was erected to commemorate the crew, unfortunately the memorial was lost in 1953.
The 15 year old son of Mr. Valette from Sluipwijk was present at the burial of the seven crewman of the Lancaster bomber in 1943. On this day the boy made a vow that each year on the 12th of June he would bring flowers to the graves of these airmen. Until 1953 he brought flowers to the graves in Sluipwijk. After 1953 the airman were reburied in the Jonkerbos Military Cemetery. Now a man, Valette followed the airmen to their resting place to put flowers on their resting place, each year as promised.
Jack Vallete brought flowers until 1985 unfortunately he died in 1990. Jack’s son Charley picked the ritual up when Jack wasn’t able to bring the flowers to the graves of the Airmen and followed the tradition up to this day.
Charley kept in touch with the relatives of the Lancaster crew and in 2007, together with the Wireless operator R.L. Lewis his sons and wife they decided to erect a copy of the original gravestone in the hamlet of Sluipwijk.
On the 11th of June in 2008, 65 years after the tragic accident, an exact copy of the gravestone was unveiled during a big ceremony together with a brand new memorial.
On its 10th bombrun the crew of Lancaster W4960 took off on 11 June 1943 from the small village Brokenby with a population of 760 (in 2001). On the 12th of June 1943 it crashed in the village of Sluipwijk with a population of 360 (in 2007).
The crewmembers of Lancaster Mk.1 W4960 are:
Pilot F/Sgt. R.S. Christie
Navigator F/Sgt. J. Heath
B/A F/Sgt. J.H. Horwood
A/G F/O B.W. Bennett
A/G F/Sgt. P.J. Hogan
W.Op Sgt. R.L. Lewis
F/G. Sgt. R.S. Kerwin
The stone and memorial can be found on the small cemetery next to the church in Sluipwijk. Sluipwijk is part of the jurisdiction of Reeuwijk, therefore it has an addres referring to Reeuwijk
2811 GC Reeuwijk, the Netherlands