March 24, 2019, Nägelstedt, Germany
In the fall of 2018 René Schütz and his companions of Vermisstenforschung (Research of the Missing), Kevin Schmidt, Livius Schillingmann and Thorben Ehmer, completed a symbolic memorial cairn at the crash site of ED317, two kilometres west of the village of Nägelstedt, Thüringen, Germany. René and his group volunteer to research crash sites of Allied and German aircraft of WWII. To date they have investigated twenty and laid to rest three airmen with military honours.
Livius typifies the energy and enthusiasm of this young group. He is studying history at the University of Göttingen and has had a lifelong interest in WWII aviation. As a child he grew up near the Dutch-German border. His grandfather recounted the 1944 crash of Flying Fortress adjacent to their farm. The pilot, the sole survivor, parachuted to safety landing nearby. He was promptly captured by Livius’s grandfather, a 17 year old member of the Hitler Youth. After the war they maintained mail contact and visited each other on several occasions until the pilot died in 2002 or 2003. In Livius’s opinion they were paragons of international understanding—an example that he strives to up hold with his volunteer work.
An invitation was extended to relatives of the seven airmen who perished, to attend the inaugural ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of this loss. Relatives of the crew of ED317 were located in Scotland and Australia. Elizabeth Baillie (nee Jamieson), second cousin of the pilot, F/Sgt. Ronald Jamieson, and her husband, Mark, sojourned from Brechin, Scotland. While in Berlin they visited the Commonwealth War Cemetery to pay their respects to the crew of ED317, took photos and signed the visitors book. They were met in Berlin by René’s sister, Anja, and escorted to Nägelstedt. Debra and Philip Jakes, relatives of the rear gunner, Sgt. John Honey, were unable to attend from Australia.
The attendees were hosted by René’s crew and the mayor and citizens of Nägelstedt. The Voigt family, Heiko, Sybille, Alina and Jannes of the Bauernhof am Stiftsgut were the most gracious hosts, liaising with René and his colleagues to ensure that not a moment was wasted.
The day prior to the ceremony we were treated to a visit to a local farmhouse, cum museum, which provided insight into the primitive living and farming conditions under the Soviet regime. At the museum we were treated to viewing the crumpled and rusted remains of a FW190 that René and his crew had excavated, yielding the remains of the pilot who was laid to rest. He informed us that under the Soviets, the crash sites of WWII aircraft were strictly out of bounds and souvenir hunting forbidden. As a result they remained relatively intact with the exception of vegetation overgrowth. We also visited the site of an old Luftwaffe airfield and the location of René’s first crash site investigated, including the memorial cairn for Capt. Wesley Tibbetts, the pilot of a USAAF P38 Lightning.
Earlier that day a proud, enthusiastic Thorben Ehmer gave an inspirational tour of his hometown. Nägelstedt is a one traffic mirror (no traffic lights) pristine village with immaculate buildings and wells dating back to the 1500s. It boasts two heritage churches, one for worship and celebrations, the other for funerals and burials. At the latter Thorben pointed out the wall where the crew of ED317 were temporarily laid to rest in three graves, one each for the pilot, navigator and a third for the rest of the crew, before they were exhumed by the Missing Research and Enquiry Unit and reinterred at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery.
The inaugural ceremony on Sunday, March 24, 2019 was carried out with military precision, starting with pre-arranged transportation to the site for the 11:00 AM opening.The cairn was decorated with flowers, candles, and a rose wrapped with the Jamieson tartan. On the backdrop slope were the flags of Germany, Great Britain and Canada. Fittingly, the ceremony began with the romantic shrill of Rainer Sieland’s pipes. He was suitably attired in the regalia of the Gordon Highlanders clan tartan kilt with a sporran, a plaid held in place with a Cairngorm, spats and a skean dhu. He set the mood for the day, starting with Amazing Grace and closing with Auld Lang Syne. Livius Schillingmann MC’d the event and was exceptional in acting as a translator, incorporating the English speaking guests, ensuring that they were comfortable and understood the presentations. Elizabeth Baillie expressed a lifelong aspiration of visiting the location of her second cousin’s demise and gratitude to the organization and hospitality received in Germany. Her remarkable Aunt Maimie (wife of Harry Jamieson, the pilot’s first cousin) in a perfect German audio clip, thanked those responsible for the planning and hard work that resulted in the cairn to honour the crew of ED317 625 Squadron R.A.F. She noted that they will long be remembered in this quiet spot. Canadian Jack Albrecht attended the ceremony as an unofficial representative of 625 Squadron and the RCAF, F/O Bartlett Rogers being the sole Canadian in the crew. He identified the crew members and noted that 625 Squadron had the misfortune of losing two other crews on the same raid—ND641 and ME684. (His uncle, WOII Jack Owen, the pilot of ND641, lost his life at Tubbergen, Holland.) He commended René and his colleagues for their compassionate gesture of commemorating the loss of an RAF Bomber crew. He noted that we have truly come a long way in healing the wounds of the past. In conclusion, he announced that René, Kevin, Livius and Thorben are now Honorary Members of No. 625 Squadron Association. Unfortunately, in the crescendo of activity in the days leading up to the ceremony, a presentation by Debra and Philip Jakes was overlooked. With our profound apologies it is recorded here, in perpetuity:
John Richard Honey was a much loved son and brother to his family, and like many young men at that time paid the ultimate price for his country. He was very much missed by his Sister Marjorie who always had a picture of him in her house and talked fondly of him and their short time together.
Official dignitaries attending the ceremony included the mayors from Bad Langensalza (Matthias Reinz) and Nägelstedt (Torsten Wronowski), as well as the District Chief Executive of Thüringia, Jörg Klupag. In his speech, the Mayor of Bad Langensalza, noted that this was the site of disaster with the deaths of seven airmen and also sixteen civilians, including many children in Bad Langensalza, when a bomber dropped its bomb load and incendiaries on the town. The demolished homes and hotel “Zum Schwan” were never rebuilt and to this day the site is known locally as the “Bomb Spot”. In closing he noted that the memorial is a conciliatory sign, despite all the previous tragedy and that it should draw attention to the terrible events of that night and at the same time be a reminder to the people, of the importance of peaceful interaction with each other. The priest from Bad Langensalza, Clemens Müller, offered a blessing and a prayer. The ceremony was officially closed with the playing of the Last Post by local trumpeter, Maurice Bergmann. The events of the ceremony and subsequent visit to the crash site were covered by radio, newspaper and TV reporters.
One of the highlights of this ceremony was the attendance of several eye witnesses of the crash of ED317. At the time their ages ranged from seven to fourteen years. Achim Seeber, twelve at the time, observed a burning aircraft approach his village, Klettstedt, from the south, disappeared and seconds later was followed by a large explosion on the ground. Despite his age of 86 he was able to negotiate a quarter mile of hilly, bramble infested terrain to the crash site. Here he described the location and recovery of the crew’s remains. Both he and co-witness, Edwin Benske, were obviously moved by the events of that evening which occurred so long ago. At the crash site René and Livius pointed out the initial impact depression left by a wing and the site of the fuselage impact and explosion along the flight path. Debris covered the hilltop and the valley beyond to the site of the memorial cairn. Several witnesses recounted that the pilot of a crippled ED317 fought to control and direct it beyond the village of Nägelstedt before exploding on impact. If true, he significantly reduced the casualties that evening.
It was very emotional to hear these elderly gentlemen recount the last moments of ED317 and the recovery of the crew’s remains, obviously still vivid in their memories after all these years. It was most therapeutic for all involved to hear them ventilate their experiences.
At the conclusion of this ceremony it was evident that the crew of ED317 had not been forgotten with the passage of time, not by their relatives nor by the local German citizens. There was an obvious sense that lessons had been learned from the errors of the past. It was most reassuring that the younger generations of René, Kevin, Livius and Thorben volunteer their time, energy and finances to ensure that airmen of both sides did not sacrifice their lives in vain—Lest we forget. It was not easy to leave the compassion and kindness of our new found friends.
Before departure, each of us was presented with a souvenir plaque of ED317 fragments crafted by Kevin Schmidt. This was an adventure that will be with us for the remainder of our lives.
Submission by Elizabeth Baillie and Jack Albrecht.
Contributors and co-authors, Organizing Committee: René Schütz, Kevin Schmidt, Livius Schillingmann and Thorben Ehmer. Maureen Hicks.
On returning home Elizabeth and Mark were overwhelmed by the support and interest of the British Legion Scotland in Edinburgh. In the week following the event in Nägelstedt, the following Scottish Newspapers published articles detailing it:
- The Scotsman- Tuesday 2 April 2019
Elizabeth Baillie, “It moved me greatly that no family member had been there for 75 years. I left a piece of tartan ribbon and a thistle with Ronald.” René Schütz to Elizabeth Baillie, “Standing with you on the memorial site that day was one of the most moving moments of my life.”
- Press and Journal
- Dundee Courier
- Daily Express
- Evening Telegraph
Elizabeth is most grateful to her uncle, Harry Jamieson, through his Aircrew Remembered contacts, for delegating her as the family representative to this event. This adventure also had emotional impact on Mark, as his father, W/O William, “Bill”, H. Baillie, flew on 27 operational sorties as the wireless operator in F/O White’s crew of 149 RAF Squadron.
Note: Jack would like to thank Dr. David Baugh for him paying his respects to his Uncle Jack Owen, pilot of ND641, during his simultaneous visit to the gravesites of the crew of ND641 in the Roman Catholic Cemetery, Tubbergen, Holland. David’s cousin and godfather, Sgt.Tony Lavender, was ND641’s navigator.
It was a spring night in April, 1944. Like often the sirens of the nearby city sounded. My sister and I slept to this time and my mother and grandmother didn’t wake us up. They were always of the opinion that “dear god” will care about us.
In the morning the people were excited on the streets and told me: a burning airplane flew over the city and crashed nearby...
Our neighbour, which was by military like my father was on vacation in our home village. His son, who is a few years older than me, visited and told me that he and his father want to invite me to go to the crash. I was full of curiosity and answered immediately that i also want to go to the crash. After lunch, around 1 pm, we started to go to the former “Weinbergen”.
When we arrived at the valley near a river and crash I saw a big wheel (like a wheel of a tractor) and on the left hillside I saw lots of shattered parts of sheet. After we climbed to the top of the hill it was a terrible sight for me. That scene I will never forget. I saw five deep craters of plane debris and parts of human bodies.
After a short time some people in uniform came to us and asked what we were doing here. The father of my neighbour told them, that we want to explore the crash site and we were his children. We were advised that we have to stay close to my neighbour and leave the crash site.
We went home deeply moved. This memory has not left me until today. I visited this spot with my school mates, son, grandsons, even with some soviet soldiers and told them the sad story about this place.
Written by Kurt Rose