The remains of the aircrew from a Royal Air Force (RAF) Halifax bomber shot down over Poland in August 1944 while on a special mission during the Warsaw Uprising have today (04 Oct) been finally laid to rest with full military honours following an emotional re-dedication service at Krakow in southern Poland.
The service, attended by family members of the crew of seven and representatives from the British, Canadian and Irish embassies, was held during the anniversary week marking the end of the Warsaw Uprising.
The Halifax, JP276 from 148 Squadron, had taken off from Brindisi in Italy on 04 August to drop weapons and ammunition to the Polish Underground at a location 60 kilometres southeast of Warsaw when it was shot down by an enemy fighter close to the town of Dabrowa Tarnowska, about 110 kilometres east of Krakow.
Due to the presence of enemy forces the remains of the crew discovered at the time were buried in secret at Dabrowa Tarnowska. These were subsequently exhumed and reburied in the Commonwealth Wargrave Cemetery within Krakow’s Rakowicki cemetery.
Further remains were recovered in October last year (2006) when the crash site was fully excavated by Polish archaeologists and historians and it was these that were buried with the rest during the re-dedication service.
Nothing further was heard from the Halifax after it took off at 1956 hours on 04 August 1944. On board were seven crew, two from the RAF and five from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF):
Sergeant Frederick George Wenham, RAF(VR), was the crew’s flight engineer. He was born in Rye, Sussex, and in civilian life was a fitter. He enlisted in the RAF on 11 March 1941 at Penarth. He received the 1939-1945 Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-1945. He was just 21 when he was killed.
He was also awarded the Polish Home Cross Medal, the highest award for bravery in the struggle for the liberation of Poland – this will be presented to the family in due course.
Two of his second cousins were at the service, Mrs June Belcher, of Horsham, West Sussex, and her sister Mrs. Gillian Mundy, of Burgess Hill, West Sussex. Said June: “It is just a great honour to be here honour Frederick and the rest of the crew. Unfortunately there weren’t any close relatives.
“The Poles have worked extremely hard and the service was a lovely experience. It will be interesting to see the exhibition, and all the work they have put into it,” She added.
The other RAF crew member was Sergeant Kenneth James Ashmore, RAF(VR), who was one of the air gunners. He was born in Dublin, where he was a medical
student, and enlisted with the RAF in April 1943. He was 34 when he was killed.
He received the same decorations as Sgt Wenham, and his family is also due to receive Polish Home Cross in the near future.
His niece, Theresa McMahon, from Gosforth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, said “The whole four or five days is wonderful. It would have meant so much top my mother – she was Kenneth’s sister.
“She knew that he had been buried here years ago, and had always wanted to come to Krakow, she added. She said that Kenneth had been at Trinity College, Dublin, training to be a surgeon, and would have continued his training after the war. She said that she had been to Krakow six or seven years ago with a photograph of the very grave intending to find it.
“But there were several cemeteries, and I wished I had done a bit of research before I came. So that is why it is so important now, and I am now finally going to see it,” said Theresa.
The other crew members were all Canadians: Flight Lieutenant Arnold Raymond Blynn, RCAF, aged 26, pilot and Captain, born in Plympton, Nova Scotia; Flying Officer Harold Leonard Brown, RCAF, aged 20, wireless operator, born in Ontario; Pilot Officer George Alfred Chapman, RCAF, aged 24, navigator, born in Toronto: Flight Sergeant Arthur George William Liddell, RCAF, aged 31, air gunner, born in Montreal; and Flight Sergeant Charles Burton Wylie, RCAF, aged 20, bomb aimer, born in Saskatchewan;
The re-dedication service at the cemetery followed a memorial service in the Garrison Church at Krakow. The re-dedication involved personnel from the RAF’s Queen’s Colour Squadron and the Canadian Forces, and the band of the Polish Air Force. The services were conducted by the Rev (Squadron Leader) Tim Wright, RAF, Father Arkadiuzk Skwarek, Canadian Forces, and the Rev (Lieutenant Colonel) Stanislaw Gulak, of the Polish Army.
Tomorrow (Fri) the crew’s next of kin are due to visit the crash site and the original burial place at Dabrowa Tarnowska Cemetery, and also see a commemoration plaque in the local church before travelling on to Warsaw, where on Saturday (06 October) they will visit Warsaw’s Museum of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, whose head of its history department, Mr Piotr Sliwowski, is manager of the Halifax recovery project.
He told family members that after he had been shown where the Halifax had crashed he conducted a radar survey to establish more accurately was hidden under the ground. “We started on 13 November last year and it took us three weeks.
“It was a huge project and after I found human remains in the wreck it became obvious to me that this was something more than an archaeological project. It was port of the history of people,” he said.
He went on: “The people said that Polish Partisans were the heroes, but then they were doing their job. The real heroes were flying from Brindisi, but for many years it was impossible in Poland to talk about the Warsaw Uprising because the Communist regime would not allow it”.
Mr Sliwowski said that he had completed a long project to verify the identity of all airmen killed over Warsaw, and all the names are currently on display engraved on a memorial wall in the museum.
Editor: RAF Public Relations, Air Command
Photographer: SAC Andy Holmes
Image 1: (Larger size) A Polish Guard of honour salutes a casket with the remains of a World War Two bomber crew, shot down over Poland during the Warsaw uprising.
Image 2: (Larger size) The remains, discovered last year, of aircrew from a Second World War RAF Halifax bomber shot down over Poland in August 1944 was laid to rest.
Image 3: (Larger size) Mrs June Belcher, of Horsham, West Sussex, and her sister Mrs. Gillian Mundy, of Burgess Hill, West Sussex, both second cousins of Sergeant Frederick George Wenham, RAF(VR), pay thei respects during the ceremony.
Image 4: (Larger size) Members of the Royal Air Force Regiment Queens Colour Squadron pay tribute as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force toasts the remains of a World War Two.
Image 5: (Larger size) Mr Piotr Sliwowski, the manager of the Halifax recovery project, who was responisble of excavating Halifax JP276