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Service Casualty Branches

The Royal Navy
Contemporary British Government Policy on Wrecks
San Carlos

In 2001 Royal Air Force Casualty Branch successfully identified five aircrew of Lancaster Bomber JB 659 of 97 Squadron - a Pathfinder Unit. This Lancaster was returning from a night bombing mission over Germany when it was intercepted and shot down by a German nightfighter on the night of 30th - 31st January 1944, over Halfweg, Amsterdam. The aircraft crashed onto a farmhouse, killing all on board and six members of the Van Der Bijl family.

   'The seven graves at Zwanenburg. Note the weathering
                     on headstones four and five

Two dead members of crew were thrown clear by the impact. They and the members of the Van Der Bijl family were buried in Zwanenburg General Cemetery.

The remains of the Lancaster and the bodies of the rest of the crew were discovered during the clearance of land in 2001, by the Port of Amsterdam Authority. All the next of kin were traced and the burials took place on 29th November 2001 at Zwanenburg, Haarlemmermeer, with the assistance of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Royal Netherlands Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Air Force. Unusually the five crew were not buried in a CWGC cemetery, because two of the crew were buried in the plot at Zwanenburg in 1944. They were buried alongside them, reunited in death. The Van Der Bijl family attended the funeral and met the families of those who had died. A Guard of Honour was provided by the Queen's Colour Squadron of the Royal Air Force. A bugler from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force sounded Last Post in memory of those who died. In addition a special service was held at the Christian Church, Halfweg, Amsterdam conducted by Archdeacon Jeffrey Allen and Major Alin Guevremont. Air Vice-Marshal Rob Wright, based at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Brussels, represented the Roysal Air Force.

On the morning of Thursday 29th November 2001 in Amsterdam, a memorial donated by the Port of Amsterdam Authority to the seven crew members was unveiled in a special ceremony. Mr Geert Dales, Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam, unveiled it.


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