George Wesley Armstrong, Edward Bellis, John James Mansfield, Jean Baptiste Sylviel Paul David, David Ellis Williams, Sydney Blackhurst, Alexander Rutherford Laing

The Pathfinder Year - 97 Squadron at Bourn

"My uncle Alexander Rutherford Laing was posted to 97 Squadron at RAF Woodhall Spa (together with the rest of his crew) on 14th March 1943 from the No 1661 Heavy Conversion Unit (then based at Winthorpe in Notts).

The crew carried out the following operations

        1.28/29 Mar 43 St Nazaire
        2/3 Apr 43 minelaying - returned early
        2.13/14 Apr 43 Spezia
From RAF Station Bourn, in Cambridgeshire
        3.30 Apr/1 May 43 Essen
        4.4/5 May 43 Dortmund
        5.12/13 May 43 Duisburg 
        6.28/29 May 43 Wuppertal 
        7.16/17 Jun 43 Cologne 
        8.21/22 Jun 43 Krefeld 
        9.22/23 Jun 43 Mulheim

On 22nd June 1943 they took part on a mission to Mulheim during which their aircraft was attacked by a night fighter over the city of Utrecht in Holland and exploded in mid-air.  Debris from the stricken bomber fell into a residential neighbourhood, causing many casualties and extensive damage to property.

My uncle and Sergeant Bellis were the only survivors of the crew.  My uncle had been wounded and received first aid from a local doctor.  He and Sergeant Bellis were later taken into captivity by the Germans and remained POWs for the rest of the war.

I believe my uncle was held prisoner in East Prussia and took part in the Langsdorf Death March before being liberated by the US Army and returned home to England.

I wish I could say that there was a happy ending to my uncle's story but sadly this was not to be.  His health had been seriously affected during his captivity and after a long and distressing illness he died at the tragically young age of thirty three.

I believe Edward Bellis died in 1994.

My recollections of my uncle are very vague as I was very young when he died.  What I know of his story I learnt mainly from my mother.  Like so many of his comrades he apparently spoke very little of his experiences, preferring, I suppose, to concentrate on getting on with life after the war.

The story does not quite end here.  In 1993 my mother received a letter from a Mr J.C. Maarschalkerweerd.  He had been a very young boy living in the street on which my uncle's bomber crashed.  He explained that this experience had kindled within him a life-long interest in the European air war.  He wrote an article about the night of the Utrecht crash which was published in "After the Battle" magazine."

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The Crash of Lancaster ED928 OF-B on the city of Utrecht, June 1943

Co Maarschalkerweerd was a very young boy in June 1943, living in Utrecht with his family. For most of his life he has been gathering information about the crash of the Armstrong crew's Lancaster, and he intends to write a book on the subject. All the photographs included on the Armstrong pages appear with his kind permission.
Part of the aircraft, having come through a bedroom ceiling

Jennie Gray on  J C Maarschalkerweerd's article
("After the Battle", no 41, published 1983 in London)
The article is the most thorough account I have ever seen of the aftermath of the shooting down of a Lancaster over an urban area. Once again, it is a grim reminder of the cost to Dutch civilians of the RAF's strategic air offensive. The many photographs which illustrate the article show how close the falling remains of the aircraft came to killing numerous people. In one house, no 38 Palmstraat, the complete nose of the aircraft smashed through the roof and came to rest inches above the bed of the occupants - the ammunition from the forward gun hanging down in festoons. In other houses, serious fires were started. Several adults and children were killed as a direct result of the Lancaster debris or the resultant fires. The pitiful bodies of the five crew members who were killed were later found in the same area of small, neatly kept houses. Honoured for their sacrifice, they were buried in the local cemetery.
From the ORB
22.6.43        17 aircraft detailed for ops.  Target was Mulheim.  Raid was quite successful and several large explosions were reported.  Weather was good.  1 aircraft, Captain P/O Armstrong, failed to return.  No news received after aircraft left base.

22/23 June 1943 Mulheim - Bomb Load 5 x TI, 1 x 4000lb, 6 x 1000lb unless stated

ED928B  P/O G.W.Armstrong, Sgts S.E.Bellis, J.J.Mansfield, P.David, R.J.Williams, P/O S.Blackhurst, Sgt A.Laing.  1 x 4000lb 12 SBC.  Up 2250.  Aircraft and crew missing.

Extract from Bomber Command Losses - 22/23.6.43
Lancaster III  OF - B.  Op Mulheim.  T/O 2252 Bourn.  Crashed in the city of Utrecht where those who died are buried in Soestbergen General Cemetery.
P/O G.W.Armstrong RCAF(+), Sgt E.Bellis(pow), F/S J.J.Mansfield(+), Sgt J.B.S.P.H.David RCAF(+), Sgt D.E.Williams(+), P/O S.Blackhurst(+), F/S A.R.Laing(pow).

Aftermath of the Lancaster crash in Utrecht