Human remains retrieved from crashed Stirling in Germany

Discussion in 'The War In The Air' started by Pam C, Nov 23, 2019.

  1. Pam C

    Pam C Member

    Hi everyone, I have been researching my Uncles last mission:
    Henry Pullar 411777 75th Squadron RAF RNZAF.
    He and all the crew were killed on 17.12.1942 at Vechta, Germany.
    Our family were contacted 2 weeks ago by the Aviation Archaeology Group to say the plane was being dug up. They have recovered parts and also human remains that have been sent away for forensic analysis.
    They speculate they could be my uncles as he was the rear gunner, and most of the wreckage has come from there.
    Has anyone had any experience of this, and what happens when the id is done?
    Are the remains buried in the existing war grave?
    I would appreciate any info.

    Kind regards
    Pam (Australia)
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  2. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    The following from.....RAF Bomber Command Losses Vol.3 - W R. Chorley.

    17-18 December 1942

    75 Squadron
    Stirling I R9247 AA-W
    Op. Fallersleben.

    Took off 1800 Newmarket. Crashed on or near Vechta airfield, Germany. All are buried in Rheinberg War Cemetery (sic)


    F/S. H E. Rousseau +
    Sgt. W W. Morton +
    P/O. M O. Clark RNZAF +
    Sgt. R C. Mocock +
    Sgt. C J. Kendall RNZAF +
    F/S. J. Fellows RCAF +
    Sgt. H W. Pullar RNZAF +
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  3. KevinBattle

    KevinBattle Senior Member

    F/Sgt Rousseau appears to have been specifically identified and has an individual grave, whereas the 6 crew members, including RCAF and RNZAF all occupy collective graves 15,16,17 and 18 (which is just 4 technically).
    The RCAF uniform being darker, often enabled identification to be made, but doesn't appear to have been possible in this instance, indicating some catastrophic impact, explosion or fire when it crashed. The crew were initially buried in the Vechta Cemetery (Russian) as one single and a collective grave for the remaining 6 crew in October 1947.

    You've probably read the 75 Sqdn website details:- R9247
    17/12/1942 – Operations. Attack Against Targets At Fallersleben
    Five aircraft were detailed to attack the above target with bombs of 1,000lb. This was to be a low level flight all the way climbing to 5,000 feet to bomb. Four out of the five aircraft unfortunately failed to return. They were the Squadron Commander, Wing Commander V. Mitchell, D.F.C., captain of Stirling I BF396 who took W/O Bagnall and crew who had only arrived a few days previously. Stirling I, BF400 captained by F/O Jacobson, Stirling 1, BK620 captained by P/O R.E. Williams, and Stirling I, R9247 captained by F/Sgt. Rousseau. The one aircraft to return was captained by P/O McCullough who could not find the target owing to rain and bad visibility, and bombed an alternative. This was an aerodrome, the bombs were seen to explode on the flare path and hangars. A.A. fire was fairly heavy and a few searchlights were seen. The aircraft was twice attacked by fighters but they were driven off on each occasion, on return the aircraft was found to have four holes believed due to combat with one of the fighters. The weather was clear to the target but developed to rain and 7/10th cloud on return. Navigation was good.

    Errol Martyn posted on RAFCommands a long time ago RAFCommands Archive :: Stirling Aircraft # R 9247 # 75 Squadron RNZAF & RAF Crew
    Stirling I R9247/W - took off at approximately 1745-1817 captained by Flt Sgt H E Rousseau, RAF, on same raid as the above, and brought down over Germany, crashing near Vechta, killing the seven crew. With the possible exception of the captain, they were buried at Vechta, but all were later reinterred at Rheinberg, 12km south of Wesel.
    Navigator: NZ404895 Plt Off Mervyn Oliver CLARK, RNZAF - Age 20.
    Wireless Op: NZ412342 Sgt Christopher James KENDAL, RNZAF - Age 21. 293 hrs. 16th op.
    Rear Gunner: NZ411777 Sgt Henry Welsh PULLAR, RNZAF - Age 25. 213 hrs. 3rd op.
    If you would like further details of the RNZAF crew members please contact me via the email address above.

    I note the wireless operator had completed 16 Ops with 293 hours logged, and Pullar on his 3rd(?) Op had 213 hours.... perhaps Errol meant 23rd Op?????

    Pam, you previously responded about R9247 on stirling crash vechta -

    As to what happens, I'd expect you to be contacted by an NZ representative of the CWGC or RNZAF to obtain some DNA samples etc.
    They may well have some personal effects which may be told or shown to you, if there is any surviving family member who might recall if your uncle had any prized personal effects. But I don't have any experience, so I suggest you see what happens. In the meantime, perhaps you could advise the RNZAF about this excavation, as there were several Kiwis in the crew.

    Have you had any German newspaper contact about this?
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  4. Pam C

    Pam C Member

    Hi Peter, thanks very much for the info I appreciate your help.
    What would be the best way to find out the other operations my Uncle was involved in?
    I have only got info from the E Rosseau crew notes on the 75 Squadron site that relate to 1942.

    Cheers, Pam
  5. Pam C

    Pam C Member

    Hi Kevin, thanks so much for all the information, its fascinating but sobering. Interesting what you say about the RCAF uniform.
    Also about the number of ops Uncle Mick flew - as that never made sense to me.
    How could I found out info on the ops he flew as I only have the crew notes from mid 1942.
    Thanks for the info on how this should proceed, I have made contact with the RNZAF today. No there hasn't been any contact with anyone, so not sure how widely known any of this is....
    There are 3 crew members they haven't been able to find any family for to keep in touch about this.
    The people involved are very good with updating us on what has happened on site.

    Cheers, Pam
  6. Buteman

    Buteman 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA

    Headstone photo of H W Pullar from Findagrave.

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  7. KevinBattle

    KevinBattle Senior Member

    Pam - as you have now made contact with the RNZAF, then you should ask them how to obtain your uncle's service records. They will contain accurate but sometimes abbreviated details of where and when he trained and was posted to 75 Squadron etc.

    There are Squadron Operations Records Books (ORB's) usually one for the Station and another for the Squadron. See if you can obtain those on the 75 Squadron site. They usually have a summary of who was posted in, sometimes just so -and so and crew from HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit) but sometimes by name. Sorry to be vague but I've not personally done this, but there are excellent Pals on here who could better inform you.

    It may also be a story that could interest your NZ media, given the 3 Kiwis on board. This will be a harrowing time, as if remains have been found it may not be possible to provide a specific identity but tat least they will be re-united with the rest of their crew mates. It may be a (very) long haul, as I believe there is a considerable backlog and it's painstaking work as they need to ensure they have the right person identified.

    if the RNZAF are prepared to put their support into this, it may help. There are 3 families in NZ as well as some in Canada and the UK who would be given some comfort and closure from this sad event. They came from all over to help us when we needed it most - and paid the ultimate price.

    You probably know that something close to 30% of the attacking bombers were lost that night, but it was necessary to keep the pressure on the Germans, keep the population awake and thus not only damage industrial targets but also morale. It took another 2 years of hard and brutal slog, but Bomber Command strangled German industry so that the Navy and Army had less of a tough job.
  8. Pat Atkins

    Pat Atkins Patron Patron

    The squadron records are available for £3.50 each from The National Archives in downloadable pdf format. I have to say that I've looked through the Appendices Y (1940-45) document and as it doesn't contain lists of squadron personnel, I doubt if it would really help you in your research concerning your uncle I'm afraid.

    However, in researching my own uncle's RAF service I found that trawling through the monthly ORBs (specifically, the Form 541 Record of Events) backwards from a known date - in your case 17/12/1942 - will eventually tell you exactly what operations your relative flew, assuming each aircraft's crew members are named. The Form 541s I've seen have all done so, but I can't vouch for 75 Sqdn. Others on here will surely know for certain, though - if not, maybe download the December 1942 one as a trial run to see what it contains? Hope this is helpful.

    Best of luck, Pat

    Edit: out of curiosity I've just downloaded the December 1942 Record of Events, and it gives each a/c and crew plus operational details. Your uncle's crew are shown as flying twice that month - on 6th December (in a Stirling Mk1, BK615, to Mannheim, aborted) and their final operation on 17th. So it should therefore be possible to work back through these documents to build a complete picture of your uncle's operational flying. There is the cost of the downloads, and the time-consuming nature of the research to consider though, of course. Anyway, all the best. Pat
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2019
  9. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    Sgt. John Fellows, R.78046 – Mid Upper Gunner.

    Born in Hamilton, Ontario, 28 May 1920. Attained Junior Matriculation but only partial Senior Matriculation. Part-time printer and typesetter, 1936 onwards. Member of a Cadet Corps, two years. Enlisted in Toronto, 8 October 1940 and posted to No.1 Manning Depot. To Station Rockcliffe, 25 October 1940; to No.1 ITS, Toronto, 3 January 1941; promoted LAC, 8 February 1941 and posted to No.7 EFTS, London, Ontario. Ceased training on 25 February 1941 and posted to No.1 Manning Depot. To No.7 AOS, Portage la Prairie, 27 April 1941; ceased training 16 July 1941 and posted to Composite Training School, Trenton; to No.2 WS, Calgary, 18 August 1941; to Composite Training School, Trenton, 21 February 1942; to No.5 BGS, Dafoe, 29 March 1942; promoted Sergeant, 27 April 1942; to "Y" Depot, Halifax, 29 April 1942.
    Disembarked in Britain, 11 June 1942 and taken on strength of No.3 PRC. To No.7 AGS, 22 July 1942.
    Missing, presumed dead, 17 December 1942. The file is incomplete in that it does not show him being posted away from No.7 AGS and hence no posting date to No.75 Squadron.
    What is otherwise remarkable about the file is that he was generally praised in training for spirit and wish to keep going - yet he washed out successively as pilot, observer and WAG before finally settling in to being an air gunner.

    John Fellows - The Canadian Virtual War Memorial - Veterans Affairs Canada

    fellows1.jpg fellows2.jpeg
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2019
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  10. Pam C

    Pam C Member

    Thanks very much, you're so kind to help.
  11. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    That's interesting Canuck regarding Sgt John Fellows's remustering as number on designated aircrew courses were remustered to other designations usually due to failing a training stage of the course.Sometimes there were other reasons for a redirection in flying duties.

    Digressing from the loss of No 75 (NZ) Squadron account of remustering.

    I knew of a Bomb Aimer who was in Canada for pilot training.He already had a pilot's licence from before the war but it would appear that he had some disagreement with his flying instructors while on his pilot's course and decided to remuster,in his case as a Bob Aimer. So returned to the UK,went through his OTU and HCU.(Blyton...No 1 Group) then on to No 100 Squadron,equipped with Lancasters out of RAF Grimsby.

    After about 7 ops,his Lancaster,short of fuel, homeward bound from Turin and perhaps thinking they were over the Cornwall/Devon peninsula.landed on a German fighter airfield which is now Brest Airport in Brittany...lucky to be alive from the hail of fire which they met on landing.the whole crew finished as POWs. Their story was also well documented by his pilot's sons and one of the gunners.

    Talking to the Bomb Aimer's son,he told me that his father was strong minded and expressed disappointment that he and his brother did not attain aircrew while doing National Service.
  12. alieneyes

    alieneyes Senior Member

    As Canuck says the file is incomplete but there is a little more information hidden in it.

    Sgt Fellows attended No. 7 Air Gunnery School at Stormy Down from 23 July 1942 until 10 August 1942, graduating with a 90% mark.

    He then attended an Air Gunnery Instructor's course at No. 1 Air Armament School at Manby from 6 September 1942 until 16 October 1942, graduating with a mark of 78.5%.

    This isn't the first time I have seen an air gunner bypass OTU and HCU. Hopefully, the No. 75 Sqn ORB can add a little more.


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  13. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    This is good dedicated website on No 75 (NZ) Squadron by Simon Sommerville whose father,R B Jock Sommerville survived as an Air Bomber Bomb Aimer serving with squadron at Mepal.


    Looking at the events surrounding the loss of Stirling Mark 1 R 9247 AA-W.It would appear while the squadron were working up their new aircraft which could be somewhat of a challenging period to convert from the two engined Wellington to the four engined Stirling.

    No 75 (NZ) Squadron was reformed in April 1940 at RAF Feltwell immediately after its predecessor squadron was disbanded and absorbed by No15 OTU as the OTU structure was improved.It had started its new operational career with a series of Wellingtons of four different types at Feltwell and Mildenhall. On 1 November 1942,the squadron was relocated to RAF Newmarket (the horse racing course was requisitioned to a grass airfield ) and converted to the Stirling Mark 1 which it operated until July 1943 after arriving at Mepal on 28 June 1943.In March 1943,the Stirling Mark 111 arrived which it operated until March 1944 when it converted to the Lancaster Marks 1 and 111,being one of those squadrons to receive the Lancaster late,after it had been in service for two years.

    An immediate postwar relocation to Spilsby,Lincolnshire followed on 21 July 1945 where in September it received the Lincoln B2 in addition to its Lancasters but by October 1945,the squadron was disbanded and the 75 Squadron number was transferred to the RNAF.

    The transfer to Spilsby to join No 5 Group was integral to the plan for Tiger Force with No 75 squadron reflecting a Commonweath presence.....envisaged to join the USAAF in the air offensive against Japan with its plan tabled at the end of 1944 as Project Tiger and finally drawn up as Tiger Force in February 1945.Tiger Force would consist of 36 Lancaster/ Lincoln squadrons,fitted with 2 x 400 gallon extra petrol tanks situated in the bomb bay.Fighter escort would be provided by 6 Mosquito squadrons.The atomic raid on Japan by the USAAF in August 1945 brought the matters to the end and caused a further rundown of Bomber Command strength.

    Mepal.... in addition to the memorial garden,there is memorial plaque to the squadron at the road leading to Ely biomass power plant which is located on part of the former airfield.

    Mepal was utilised during the Cold War from July 1959 to July 1963 to house one squadron (No 113 Squadron) of three Thor missiles.20 Squadrons were formed in four groups with one airfield usually a permanent airfield as the Group HQ and housing a squadron, the other sites being disused wartime airfields.

    Mepal - Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust UK
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  14. Pam C

    Pam C Member

    Kevin - what a wealth of info many thanks. how long has the aircraft recovery been going on in Germany? Do you have any links about what's happening where? Its intriguing, I know the cost of decontaminating the site is the land owners. Curious to know what has started all this.
  15. KevinBattle

    KevinBattle Senior Member

    Aircraft recovery is a very complex operation. It's been going on since the end of the World Wars.
    For some years now, human remains from WW1 and WW2 sites has been the remit of the JCCC in the UK, and no doubt a similar liaison with Commonwealth and other Allied Nations. You may remember the Fromelles story, of the 200 or so found recently and the efforts to identify as many as possible.
    I would hope that they have already been alerted by the German authorities, as it is usual for "digs" on aircraft wreckage to require that any such finds are reported and then thoroughly examined, hopefully in situ.
    I've no specialist knowledge, but I do read news items such as WW1 soldiers buried after 'emotional' DNA match
    However, as they are a small organisation, even WW1 remains take a considerable amount of time to examine carefully.

    I'm only advising that you make the RNZAF aware, and that they in turn make the authorities in Germany aware that these human remains are passed to the correct organisations to ensure the best possible chance of a successful identity.
    Obviously I can't guarantee that they may be your uncle, but with a collective grave spanning 4, and 6 crew, the scope is there that the retrieval in 1942 wasn't as complete, due to wartime circumstances, as it may be today.

    My best wishes that this is done correctly and that all relatives can rest assured that everything possible has been done for them.
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  16. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

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  17. Jabo

    Jabo Member

    Hi, Pam, hi all,
    Pam nice to meet you here.... the www is such a small world.
    The human remains are in the best hands of the Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf for further analyses.
    Professor Pueschel and Dr. Jopp-van Well and their team are experts in WW II cases. The last one, on which I worked on too, was Lt. John W. Herb MIA April 1945, recovered 2015.
    Louise Dorr from JCCC is informed.
    I wonder that JCCC want that the Hamburg team don´t proceed with the DNA analyses. She argumented that all of the crew have known graves and that these human remains had to be burried as "additional" without identification.
    She puts pressure on the Hamburg team to hand over the remains to the british embassy.
    But, I think they don´t hand over anything without knowing who it was. The Hamburg team do it for "Glory and Honor"....No charge, no costs.

  18. KevinBattle

    KevinBattle Senior Member

    Jabo: Not arguing with you, but perhaps there is some misunderstanding?
    I can't believe that the JCCC can actually say that ALL the crew have known graves when it is clear there are just 4 grave spaces for 5 crew... It is therefore obvious that not all the initially recovered remains were able to constitute 6 bodies.....
    (Sorry for this Pam and others) but that must mean they didn't have six skulls, or spinal columns or enough for 6 sets....

    I refuse to believe that the JCCC meant that the remains now recovered would simply be added to those in the communal/collective grave.
    Perhaps they are too badly damaged to e able to provide DNA or other means of identification to a single individual, but if, say, they were recovered from a turret, it's pretty likely they would be that gunner (or other crew position if found elsewhere. Of course, it might be scattered remains, which could justify her comment, but it doesn't sound "professional" to express it the way it has.

    Just my take. If it were a crew that I had a relative in, I'd want them to make every effort, not least a direct contact through official channels to the family relatives. Surely we owe it t those crew and relatives that every effort at ID is made?
  19. Pam C

    Pam C Member

    Hi Jabo, this is very interesting and helpful - I can't believe they are putting pressure on the Hamburg team to hand the remains over. All of our family agree the remains should be identified, and my brothers are more then happy to provide DNA.
    Its difficult bring the other side of the world and relying on others. We are so appreciative of the work being done in Germany. I will be reminding those involved including Louise Dorr of their responsibility.
    Cheers and many thanks
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  20. Pam C

    Pam C Member

    Hi Kevin I agree with everything you've written, but when I emailed to ask about the next step after recovery I was asked if we were interested in the id of the remains. They said then that someone had said that as no-one was missing and everyone had a headstone that it wasn't necessary. Seems the JOCC want the fastest solution. Everyone related has replied with a definite yes for identification.
    Thanks for your common sense!
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