It was May 25, 1944, and Royal Air Force Halifax Mark III bomber LV905 was returning from an overnight bombing run. The bomber had set out from Brighton, Yorkshire, England, to participate in an attack on the railroad yards in Aachen, Germany, just east of the Belgium border. The Halifax was one of 432 planes dispatched by Royal Air Force Bomber Command to bomb the railway yards, for the sole purpose of crippling the German war machine. The Halifax lifted off from Brighton at 22.50 hours (11:20 p.m.) and successfully completed its bombing run, and was on the return leg of its mission, heading back to England. As the bomber flew over The Netherlands, it encountered a German night fighter. During the ensuing aerial battle, the Halifax was shot down, and crashed into a dyke near Hank, The Netherlands. The impact of the crash separated the rear gun turret from the aircraft, and two of the seven crew members' bodies were thrown out with it, of which only British Sergeant George Herbert Butler could be identified. See ACTON, pg. 8
Acton man's 20-year quest ends
Continued from pg. 7 The other five crew members remained in the wreckage of the bomber, buried in the dyke. One of the crew members on that bomber was Flight Sergeant Joseph Thomas Lloyd LeBlanc, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, 78 Squadron (RAF). The wreckage would be left undisturbed from that point on, as the two bodies that were found with the gun turret were interred in a nearby cemetery. In 1983, a young man visited his family's home in Gaspé, Quebec, and by some stroke of luck, he was given his grandmother's photo album and a stack of letters written by his uncles. One uncle was Flight Sergeant Joseph Thomas Lloyd LeBlanc-- and 28 of his letters were included in the bundle. After reading the letters and studying the photos, Michael LeBlanc of Acton was bitten by the bug. He had to learn as much as he could about his deceased uncle, whose remains lay with the wreckage of that Halifax bomber, somewhere in Holland. LeBlanc learned all about his uncle's RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) career, from the day he enlisted in August 7, 1942, until that fateful encounter with the night fighter. "I learned my uncle (Joseph) enlisted after he heard his brother Leonard was named missing after the attack at Dieppe," said Michael LeBlanc. "Uncle Leonard eventually showed up in England-- I'm still trying to track down that story." The bundle of letters and photos would be the start of a 20 year quest on Michael's part to uncover all the information he could about his uncle's death. Starting with a visit to Holland in 1990 to visit the crash site, LeBlanc was fortunate enough to track down some eye witnesses of the crash, and in doing so, found the exact location of the buried wreckage. The 1990 trip would mark the beginning of several trips to Holland, to recover the remains of those five missing crew members and give them a fitting burial. "The wreckage didn't really qualify for recovery," said LeBlanc, "In Holland, the criteria for recovery states they will only recover downed aircraft that were flying `to a target', in case they still had some live munitions onboard, but not aircraft returning from a mission, like my uncle's plane." In spite of the restriction, LeBlanc and some of the Dutch locals around the crash site were pushing for it to be recovered. "After being turned down numerous times, I was prepared to let it be," said LeBlanc, "And simply have the site marked with some sort of a marker. But Anton Vanderplujm, whose family still owns the land there, was determined to have it recovered." The recovery discussion soon became a media event in Holland as the local municipality discussed the merits of recovery. The request was still repeatedly denied. But after a top ranking officer in the Dutch Air Force became interested, and he later conveyed his interest to Prince Bernard of the Royal Family, it was eventually approved in 2004. The next hurdle was the cost. "Recovering WW2 aircraft is not cheap," said LeBlanc, "It was estimated that the cost would around 250,000 Euros, and the local municipality was required to raise 25,000 Euros. They outdid themselves-- in 10 days they raised 35,000 Euros." Funds for the recovery operation were raised through a combination of private donors and the municipal government of the nearby municipality of Werkendam. The excavation lasted five weeks in 2005 and was carried out by the Royal Netherlands Air Force Salvage Team. During the operation, approximately 80 percent of the wreckage was found, including the remains of the five crew members who went down with the aircraft. The project also came in under the 250,000 Euro budget. A final culmination of the project occurred in September 27 of this year, as the five recovered crew members and the original
two were buried at Jonkerbos War other unidentified airman who was Cemetery, near Nijmegen, The found with Sgt Butler the day after Netherlands, following a funeral the crash," said LeBlanc, "My gut service at Lourdes Kerk Church, feeling is he was found with Butler. Jonkerbos. A memorial was also It doesn't really matter now, as all unveiled in Hank, in the seven have been buried with full Municipality of Werkendam. military honours in Jonkerbos War "I'm not sure if my uncle was Cemetery, and that's the important one of the five recovered or the thing."