Search for the Sole Survivor
I was now left with two relatively simple tasks. The first was to visit the graves of my uncle and his crew in Tubbergen, Netherlands, to pay my respects 50 years after their last flight. With my adventuresome wife, Ruth, acting as navigator we struck off cross-country from Amsterdam in a rented car. The weather was horrific with blistering wind, pelting rain, driving sleet and even snow flurries - a bomber pilot’s nightmare! After several hours of wandering in this meteorological cauldron we found the needle in the haystack - the Roman Catholic Cemetery in Tubbergen. After a tip from Frank we also located Bertus Derksen who gave us a personal tour and narration during out visit. Fifty years prior he had been first on the crash site of Lancaster ND 641 and his memory had not been eroded with the passage of time. During our visit the incredible happened - the rain stopped, the clouds parted and the sun shone on the village and the cemetery. It was as if the resting souls knew we had come for a visit. This respite gave us time to appreciate how well kept the graves and headstones were of the two crews laid to rest here. As we left the cemetery the sun retreated and the storm returned with a vengeance for our return trip to Amsterdam.
In April 1996 we managed to complete the final link with a visit to London, England. After a check ride in a Tiger Moth at the Tiger Club in Headcorn and a visit to the Bomber Command Hall of Fame at R.A.F. Hendon Museum, I was in the mood for another cross-country journey - this time by rail. Our destination was Grimsby in the Yorkshire Lowlands. The cabbie raised his eyes in bewilderment when this strange couple with Canadian and Filipino accents asked for a lift to Kelstern - the last and only home for 625 R.C.A.F. Squadron. We were in luck! Our driver was a spare time treasure hunter and provided ancient Roman coins as proof. He had found several in the locale of the old base. We set off and after a few erroneous zigs instead of zags located the commemorative cairn and head-on Lancaster profile, several crosses and memorial poppies. The only other reminders of a once bustling bomber base were the dilapidated concrete buildings relegated to farm storage barns and the ever present bone-chilling Yorkshire wind - the circle was complete, albeit in reverse order.
It is now over a decade since I located the sole survivor. During that time the friendship between our families has blossomed with visits, phone calls and Christmas cards. Each Remembrance Day now has a special significance and it is not complete without a call to Frank and Vera to confirm their well-being.
I am indebted to the Legion for completing this chapter in life for me - no, I will not forget.
Addendum: During a recent telephone conversation to review this article with Frank I was saddened to hear that Henk van Guens died suddenly from a heart attack in May 1988, at age 78.