Results 1 to 5 of 5

Thread: 70 years ago, today

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Wheaton, MD, USA (Wash DC area)
    Posts
    358
    Thanks
    0
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts

    Default 70 years ago, today

    Today is the 70th anniversary of the downing of 355 Sqn Liberator KH250, hit by AA fire during an attack on Port Blair, S. Andaman Island (the westernmost point of Japanese expansion, I believe) on 17 May 1945.

    Of the eleven-man crew, only one was able to bale out: 1516012 F/Sgt Harold WYNNE. After three months of incarceration in Japanese hands in Port Blair, Wynne was executed by lethal injection on 17 August 1945 -- after Hirohito's surrender radio broadcast. Wynne and four of his crewmates, including their skipper, 177155 F/O Rowland TOTHAM, were on their first op in the Far East after completing a tour on Lancasters of 101 Sqn. Totham was awarded a DFC for his 101 Sqn tour.

    Another crewman on the doomed KH250, 179043 F/O Ted RUMSEY-WILLIAMS, had completed a tour on Halifaxes of 578 Sqn; he was awarded a DFC after that tour.

    The ten who died on 17 May 1945 fell just north of Port Blair. The Japanese forced local villagers to gather remains for burial in a single grave nearby. Post-war the British created a permanent grave marker complete with a names plaque -- instead of exhuming the remains for reburial in a war cemetery. What makes this especially baffling is the fact that Harold Wynne's remains, in a cemetery nearby, were moved to the newly-established Kirkee War Cemetery.

    The families were never told the truth, and the ten men are officially missing, with no known graves.

    I found the grave in late 2009, with the help of an associate in Port Blair. The struggle to get the grave exhumed continues. Currently the UK MoD's Nautical and Air Advisor in New Delhi, Royal Navy Captain Stuart Borland, is working very diligently at winning the approval of the Indian government for a dig -- which is the only holdup. I can't praise Capt Borland enough for his stellar efforts.

    The grave, once on high ground adjacent to a marsh, has been flooded routinely ever since the massive underwater earthquake on Boxing Day 2004 lowered the land by up to a meter, and the tsunami surged through the area. The concrete grave marker is a smashed wreck now, and missing the names plaque...very sad. The flooding is disgusting.

    A crew photo can be seen here, along with a photo of the shattered crew grave which doesn't show the flooding, and a photo of KH250:

    http://www.belfastforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=34442.0

    Ten of the eleven who flew aboard KH250 on 17 May 1945 are in the crew photo. The five highlighted in bold, below, were crewed together on 101 Sqn for a tour:

    Back Row Left to Right:

    Navigator – 1804316 F/Sgt Harold Walter EMERSON
    Mid Upper Gunner – 1516012 F/Sgt Harold WYNNE
    Pilot – 177155 F/O Rowland TOTHAM DFC
    Bomb Aimer - 187828 F/O Ieuan Anthony “Tony” MORGAN
    2nd Pilot – 1522985 F/Sgt John Herbert MCDOWALL
    Rear Gunner – 1380358 F/Sgt Robert Murdock Bannerman McPHERSON

    Front Row Left to Right:

    Nose Gunner – 179043 F/O Frederick Edward “Ted” RUMSEY-WILLIAMS DFC
    Ball Gunner – 1557907 Sgt Leslie BENFELL
    Wireless Operator – 655366 W/O Harry JOHNSON
    Wireless Operator – 977546 W/O Hugh CAMPBELL
    Air Gunner – Bill KENNARD (not needed on 17.5.45, survived the war)

    Not pictured is 197862 P/O Robert James “Jim” DUCKWORTH, who, though tour-ex on 355 Sqn, volunteered to fly as screen pilot on the Totham crew's first op in the Far East.

    I am grateful to have been able to share substantial details with Bill Kennard about four years ago, including photos of the crew grave. And I have teamed up with Ron Manley, nephew of Bob McPherson, to find the kin of all the other crewmen.

    To win over the Indian government is the next hurdle...and then, if successful (nothing is a certainty), the exhumation will finally happen. What survives after 70 years? There's only one way to find out.

    70 years ago today...

    Regards,

    Matt
    Last edited by Matt Poole; 18th May 2015 at 16:22. Reason: Typos

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Posts
    589
    Thanks
    1
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts

    Default

    Matt.

    You deserve recognition of the dedication you have to matters so easily forgotten by so many. I read this message with great interest and I am proud to share your interest but falling so very short in your knowledge and dedication.
    Congratulations. Colin.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Wheaton, MD, USA (Wash DC area)
    Posts
    358
    Thanks
    0
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts

    Default

    Hi, Colin,

    Wow -- I missed your very generous comments from -- gasp -- pushing three years ago! Thank you kindly, Colin.

    There is great news to report. At last the UK and Indian governments have worked out a protocol which will allow for a dig -- but now after the monsoon season has passed. This autumn, hopefully. The Indians have insisted that if remains are found, digging will cease so that the remains can be DNA tested. They must be proven to be non-Indian in nature, or else there will be no recognition of these remains as casualties from KH250, and they will not be given a burial in a CWGC cemetery.

    I have questions about the protocol. Soon the kin will be meeting with Tracey Bowers of the MoD's Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, at which time questions, ideally, can be answered.

    But at last there is hope for a proper exhumation. One step at a time, of course, and just winning Indian approval for a dig is a huge hurdle overcome.

    Some years back there was an issue with Western companies removing remains from India (such as for use in teaching human anatomy -- I know a British Navy officer, very important in the negotiations with India, who learned biology on an Indian skeleton), as they were a plentiful source. The Indian Government clamped down on this, and there are legal safeguards in place to prevent it. India is especially sensitive about the possibility of Indian remains being claimed as English, as well. I have provided a wealth of evidence, from contemporary British records to modern eyewitness recollections, that all but prove that the grave is that of casualties from KH250 -- up to ten men's remains.

    Nevertheless, proof of non-Indian heritage, via DNA, will still be required. I can only hope that a) remains can still be found after 73-plus years in what is now waterlogged soil, and b) assuming that there are remains in situ, that the DNA won't be so degraded as to defeat the effort to prove non-Indian heritage and, thus, to provide a proper burial to KH250 casualties, at long last.

    I have full confidence that no one of Indian heritage was buried there.

    The grave once had a plaque attached to it which contained the names of the all-RAF crew (from England, Northern Ireland, and Wales). The plaque was either stolen or demolished some time before the Boxing Day '04 quake and tsunami. Currently I have contacts trying to track down any evidence of the plaque -- including photos showing names -- in the villages near the gravesite. One person helping out is a journalist who lives in one of the villages and who, as a boy, played at the lone gravesite. No evidence of the plaque, or legible names on the plaque, may emerge, but if they do, I'm hoping our case will be strengthened, for what it's worth.

    Onward we go...with fingers crossed. Eyes have been crossed for a number of years, out of frustration over the almost-interminable waiting for the slow wheels of bureaucracy to turn.

    Cheers,

    Matt
    Last edited by Matt Poole; 16th June 2018 at 06:28. Reason: Improved writing for the sake of humanity (and ego)

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Delaware, USA
    Posts
    920
    Thanks
    173
    Thanked 16 Times in 11 Posts

    Default

    Couple of points in the Indian context.

    Graves are very rarely disturbed or re-interred. It is a common sight in todays Indian towns - including my home city of hyderabad to find graves that are a hundred/two hundred/more years old, almost at the edge , or even intruding into a road. These were graves that were away from the road years ago - were soon in the middle due to road widenings. and the government would rather go around them - than to move them. Ditto with small temples or any other stone that has some kind of religious significance. We would rather drive around than risk a riot.

    Plaques, plates - esp the metal kind run a high risk of theft for their scrap value - and sometimes their souvenir value.

    Matts point about the trade in human bones is a valid one too - recently there was an article on them and to say I was both shocked and fascinated is an understatement

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Wheaton, MD, USA (Wash DC area)
    Posts
    358
    Thanks
    0
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts

    Default

    Thanks for the valuable insight, Jagan. The way any culture looks at human remains is complicated, and sometimes inconsistent. For example, in the West old bones – hundreds or even thousands of years old – can be treated like objects to be studied academically and to be stored in boxes on shelves in museums and universities, especially if the bones are seen as “them”, not “us”, but it would likely be sacrilegious to treat recent remains of any kind in such a callous manner. Well, maybe! Supposedly a piece of Hitler’s skull is in a Russian archive. And probably police storage boxes contain human evidence like bones, from many cases, throughout the West.

    As I pointed out, English schools so conveniently used [and still use, in some cases?] Indian remains for teaching English students about biology!

    Years ago in a museum (maybe one of the Smithsonian museums in DC) I viewed the mummified corpse of a man buried in Philadelphia in the 1700s. He had been chemically preserved by something seeping through the soil from above. Centuries later, this colonial corpse – essentially one of "us", just hundreds of years old – is on public display! That wouldn’t be done with Uncle Charlie who died in 1990, I don’t think!

    From a Western cultural perspective alone, even if it was fully accepted that only UK airmen’s remains were buried in the KH250 grave, the issue of disturbing the 73-plus year old gravesite in order to give the remains an honorable burial can be contentious, as well. Some would take the “let them lie where they were initially buried” approach, and I can understand this point of view. All that could be recovered, at best, are remnants that have not yet turned to dust, while the soil would still contain the further essence of human remains, too small to be collected. And then others would insist that waterlogged remains (disgustingly flooded repeatedly by tidal action since the Boxing Day 2004 quake, land subsidence, and tsunami) that cannot be protected via some sort of new construction and then maintained in perpetuity (as determined by the CWGC after a 2011 KH250 site visit) should be moved, and that interring such recovered remains in a war cemetery is the honorable thing to do.

    Regarding the insistence by Indian officials that any remains be proven to be non-Indian, initially I’d wondered if this demand by the Indians might be to punish the British for past transgressions. However, it is clear that the Indian government wishes to avoid any outside chance of desecrating an Indian burial site – beyond a point, that is. To allow any dig whatsoever seems to show that the Indians likely believe that only UK remains will be found – as my evidence – circumstantial evidence – has determined. Thus, the Indian government is now willing to allow some digging, but India will still protect any found remains (if there are any!) from further disturbance should a DNA link to humans of Indian heritage be found. Then India will not allow the remains to be interred in a comrades grave – as crewmen from KH250 – in a CWGC cemetery.

    Circumstantial evidence is influential, but just not good enough in this case. I can understand India’s point of view. I'm grateful that despite cultural beliefs, the Indian government is willing to allow a dig at all.

    Now, if that names plaque, or a photo of legible names on the long-gone plaque, can be found, my case might be strengthened even further.

    Cheers,

    Matt
    Last edited by Matt Poole; 17th June 2018 at 21:35.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •