Flying hero’s relatives sought by Dutch museum

A MUSEUM in Holland is searching for relatives of a sergeant air gunner who died in a wartime plane crash in a Dutch village.

On July 24 1942, an RAF aeroplane was shot down over Geffen, killing all the crew, including Ernest Charles Isted, who is believed to be from Ashburnham or Penhurst.

The Toren Museum, a small museum based in the Dutch village, is currently creating a World War Two exhibition and is trying to trace relatives of Sgt Air Gunner Isted as it hopes to feature information and photographs of all the soldiers who perished in Geffen.

Ruud Verhagen, a member of the Toren Museum, said: “After the German Blitz the allies went to go bomb German cities and industrial complexes.

“An important target was the German Ruhr area.

“Many English bombers flew over the southern Netherlands to Germany.

“On the way back they were no longer protected by English hunters. Then came the German night fighters in action.

“On July 24, 1942 a Short Stirling airplane from military airport Lakenheath was targeted.

“After an air fight, the plane was adrift and crashed in Geffen, a small town in the south of the Netherlands.

“Because of the high speed, there was no escape for the crew, all members were killed.

“The airplane hit the ground just between three houses.

“No inhabitant of the houses was hurt, only one horse and her foal were burned, just lightly.

“After almost 70 years, the crash has not been forgotten by the inhabitants of Geffen.”

The exhibition also includes eyewitness accounts of the crash.

Geffen resident Jan van Schijndel said: “We were with our father, one or two hours at night sometimes, outside watching the planes come over.

“When the weather was clear and with a full moon, you could even see them.

“You saw them fly by in convoy. Between them flew smaller planes, criss-crossing through it to protect them.

“If they came back we weren’t allowed to watch. I do not know why.

“On that night we all were shocked awake. A very loud noise, it all went very fast. We all went to look.

“In the meadow by Has Huismans, named ‘The Low House’, a four engine airplane had crashed.

“It was half in the hedge. It burned brightly gruesome.

“You could not make a step up to it, because of the enormous heat.

“Very soon the military police came and the area was closed off.

“In the morning we were up early, but the Germans came and they made it clear that we had to go away.

“The Germans examined the device and later dug up the whole plane.”

Martha van der Doelen van Erp, who used to live on the highway, said: “The noise it made was amazing, everyone huddled in fear.

“When we looked we saw a great light.”

Her husband Antoon van der Doelen said: “I lived on the Runrotstraat, a kilometre from the place, but we heard the noise very well.

“I was down the stairs with my hands against my ears against the noise.”

Anyone with any information about Sergeant Air Gunner Ernest Charles Isted is asked to contact Ruud Verhagen at Molenstraat 14, 5386 AB Geffen, The Netherlands, or e-mail torenmuseum@gmail.com