How it started ...
In 2010, a special edition of "t Ridderke" (the magazine of historic society Hoembeka in Hombeek) was published. The edition was about air warfare over Mechelen and its surroundings. the edition also tells the story of Halifax JD259, which was shot down by a German fighter aircraft during the night of 22 - 23 June 1943 and finnaly crashes in the fields of Aland near Hombeek/Leest, Belgium. So we’d like to thank ‘Hoembeka’ for this story and opportunity !! As a non-profit organization that is actively remembering facts from World War II veterans, it seemed only natural to establish a memorial for these brave airmen who put their lives on the line for us.
In our opinion more than 70 years too late ...
An email from Australia
After we unveiled the memorial to Halifax JD259 and its crew and the publication of photos of this ceremony on our website, we received an email from 'our' pilot Leonard Cavanaghs cousin, Christine Cavanagh. After corresponding for several weeks, we we learned so much more about 'Len', which is how Leonard was called within his family. Christine will soon be writing an article for the local genealogy / local history magazine in Perth, Australia, about the memorial we created. We think it's very interesting to reconstruct Leonard's story from his personal military records and dedicate a page to him on our website !
The crew from Halifax JD259
This Memorial is dedicated to the crew from Halifax JD259
thR.A.A.F. personal records and casualty sheets
After some tips from Christine and more research on the internet, we came across Leonard's personal R.A.A.F. records, from his time in the Air Force, up to his death.
Leonard began his career at the age of 18 with the Royal Australian Air Force, as he signs up at No.4 Recruiting Centre of the R.A.A.F. in Perth, on June 19th 1941. On October 9th 1941, he was sent to No.4 Initial Training School at Victoria Harbour, South Australia. Before he signed up with the Air Force, Leonard worked as a Junior Clerk at the Metropolitan Water Supply in Perth. Leonard studied at the university for two years (University of Western Australia). The choice to join the Air Force was quite Obvious for him ...
Far away from home
On May 22nd 1942 he embarked in Melbourne to travel to Canada and the United Kingdom . He was deployed in the Royal Canadian Air Force (R.C.A.F.). He was barely 19 years old when on October 9th 1942 he became a pilot and soon after got promoted to Temporary Flight Sergeant on April 9th 1943.
To learn how to handle the new heavy Halifax bombers, he was sent to York on May 24th 1943 to the 1658 Heavy Conversion Unit RAF at Marston Moor (UK). Leonard, now Sergeant Pilot, received intensive training to fly the Handley Page Halifax. On June 16th 1943, two days after his birthday, he joined 158 Squadron of the Royal Air Force (UK).
Mission Mülheim - Germany
Leonard and his six crew members took off on Tuesday June 22nd 1943 at 2309hrs from their base in Lissett (UK) to bomb the city of Mülheim in Germany. The city was was to be attacked by 242 Lancasters, 155 Halifaxes, 93 Stirlings, 55 Wellingtons and 12 Mosquito Aircraft. Just past midnight Müllheim was in flames. Their mission was accomplished and Halifax JD 259 was ready to return home around 0130hrs on June 23rd 1943.
Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (NJG1)
When Leonard was on his way back, he was chased by a German night fighter and driven off course. This night hunter, type Messerschmitt Bf 110, was controlled by Oberleutnant Wilhelm Telge (editor's note: Wilhem Telge would die on 1 September 1943 during a mission near Berlin. He rammed his aircraft into the side of a four engine Allied bomber and crashed).
According to the official report, around 0230hrs, Leonard's Halifax was hit by the Messerschmitt in full flight and exploded in the air. The seven members of the crew were killed instantly. Pieces of the aircraft fell down across the meadows and ended up in barns and on rooftops. The sound must have been terrible for residents, because they rushed out to see what was happening. There were several eyewitnesses minutes after the wreckage hit the ground.
Wreckage At dawn
The carnage becomes really clear. German troops are facing the 6 bodies they found in the vicinity of the wreck. The bodies were placed in a coffin and the almoner gave the last rites to the young men. The Germans guarded the wreck very strict until it was fully cleared, but some residents succeeded in taking objects 'as a souvenir' and made them disappear into their pockets, out of sight of the Germans.
One body, that of Pilot Officer R. Maund (gunner) was found only several weeks later in a potato field, 100 metres from the wreckage ...
Schoonselhof Cemetery - Antwerp
The six bodies were transferred to the Military Cemetery Schoonselhof in Antwerp and buried on 25 June 1943. The 7th body, which was found several weeks later, was first buried at Fort 3 but later transferred to the Schoonselhof to lie beside his comrades. In 1946, the seven men got their final resting place in the British sector of the cemetery.
They lest in plot II - row E - graves 22 to 27
Flight Sgt Maund lies on Plot IVa - row A - grave 4
The Australian family
On June 24th 1943, the day after the crash, the RA.A.F. sent a letter to Leonard's mother, Mrs. Alma Stamp, stating that her son hadn't returned from his mission. It should be taken into consideration that the aircraft may have landed elsewhere. In other words, Halifax JD259 and his crew were missing. Unfortunately, they could not provide more information. On September 10th of that same year, Alma received a letter indicating that her son was killed in action and buried on the Schoonselhof.
In september 2014, we had the honor to meet a part of the family Cavanagh from Australia. We took them to the crashsite memorial and went to Lenns grave at Schoonselhof, Antwerp.
In 2015, other family members visited Europe and halted in Leest and Antwerp to visit the memorial and Lenns grave.
The story of the Whisky bottle
Christine told me this interesting story and sent me the necessary links to support it.
The story was published on December 6th 1951 in "The Gippsland Times"
The article ...
"Famous Whisky Bottle
Recently flown out to Australia from England was a bottle of whisky. The brand and whether or not the contents were Scotch are unimportant, for the value attached to the bottle lies in its history after it was purchased. "Please secure this till the lights shine again. We will be back." This message is on a bottle of whisky which Qantas B.O.A.C. flew to Australia.
The story behind it started in a public house in the South of England during the early days of the war. The crew of a Wellington bomber bought the bottle before they set out on a mission, but had no time in which to drink the contents. They wrote their message on it, signed it, and left it in the care of the publican while they went on their raid. They never came back. A few months ago the publican decided that the bottle should be sold for the benefit of the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund. This was done at an auction in London, and it went to the highest bidder, a lady living in the Isle of Man, who paid £37,10/- for it. This anonymous purchaser gave it to the Editor of the "Isle of Man Times" (Mr. Norman Brown), who served with the R.A.F. in North Africa and Italy during the war, and he in turn gave it to be auctioned for the benefit of the Isle of Man R.A.F. Benevolent Fund. The second purchaser, a Douglas, Isle of Man, business man, gave £15 for it, and said that he would never part with it. Next chapter in the story was written when the Editor of the "Isle of Man Times" received a letter from Mrs. Alma Stamp, Swanbourne, Western Australia, the mother of the pilot of the aircraft, who had been to Belgium to see her son's grave, and had also seen the autographed whisky bot in London. She wrote that she was happy to think that it had raised so much money for such a good cause, and enclosed a snapshot of the crew, "with my very best wishes to a very generous lady." On hearing of the letter the second purchaser immediately decided to send the bottle to the pilot's mother. British European Airways flew it from the Isle of Man and brought it to London by their helicopter service so that it could be placed on the B.O.A.C.-Qantas aircraft flying over the Kangaroo route to Australia. The whisky bottle was flown from London to Darwin on a Constellation in the personal care of the captain. On arrival at Darwin it was placed on board a MacRobertson Miller aircraft, and continued on its way to Perth." Cousins of Leonard believe to remember that Mrs. Stamp has the donated the bottle donated to the RAAF museum in Perth, but the bottle is nowhere to be found. Christine is currently looking for the whisky bottle.
There may be a third chapter in this story?