September 1944: Plane crash at Planken Wambuis
In the forest near Oud-Reemster Heath, there is a small monument. It commemorates the crew members of the British Sterling Bomber LJ883, who were killed during the Battle of Arnhem on the 23rd of September 1944. Of the 570 squadrons, this aircraft crashed, after it was hit by German anti-aircraft fire during a supply flight for the airborne troops near Oosterbeek. The Flight Officer was William 'Billy' Kirkham of the Royal Airforce.
Eight Young Men
On the 17th of September, 21-year-old Billy and his crew are part of the airlift between England, and Arnhem, they pull a glider to the landing zone in Wolfheze. His second 'sortie' is for a supply flight, which travels on the 18th of September. The German Anti-aircraft attacks the aeroplane at Arnhem. The aircraft safely returns to Harwell Airbase in Berkshire. The third flight is on the 20th of September, again a supply flight, but it is hindered by the German Anti-aircraft. The Germans have camouflaged their Anti-aircraft artillery on Rhine Barges. The fourth and final supply flight is on the 23rd of September, during Operation Market Garden and eight young Royal Air Force men from the crew of the Stirling LJ883. The team includes:
Flight Officer William Kirkham, pilot, 21 years of age.
Flight Officer Ernest Brown, navigator, 20 years of age.
Sergeant Harrod Ashton, technician, 22 years of age.
Flight Officer Morris Hand, radioman, 26 years of age.
Flight Officer David Atkinson, bomber, 23 years of age.
Flight Sergeant George Wood, tail gunner.
Lance Corporal G. Reardon, dispatcher, 31 years old.
Aircraft Operator S. Badman, dispatcher.
They make a supply flight with 13 other Stirlings, including 24 containers and four baskets onboard containing: weapons, ammunition, food and medicines. Three of the 14 aircraft make an emergency landing in England, Belgium and Randwijk. During the afternoon, another three Stirlings from this Squadron crash in Quadenoord in Arnhem, Heteren and Planken Wambuis.
Kirkham's aircraft was first hit on the left-wing, but before the tail gunner can report this to the pilot, another Salvo missile follows and the aircraft with a blazing engine, crashes into Planken Wambuis. The tail turret with tail gunner, George Wood, is metres away. Wood exits the turret reasonably unharmed and examines what can be saved. In the meantime, the ammunition has also exploded. The wounded Dispatcher, Badham, tries to save his colleague Lance Corporal Reardon. Wood and Badham are the only survivors.
A little later they hear voices, and the password “John Bull” is called, Wood, answers with “Uncle Sam”. Two paratroopers from the 10th Parachute Battalion, they have witnessed the crash. They take Wood and Badham to another seven colleagues, to their hideout in the forest, made using tarpaulin, branches and moss. During the evening, Wood accompanies two paratroopers to the farm at Nieuw Reemst. There they are given bread and water by Farmer Aalderin, there is no other food left!
On Sunday the 24th of September, they meet the young Doctor Lieutenant Donald Olliff from the 113th Field Hospital, at another spot in the woods. Doctor Lt Olliff is hiding with 30 medics in the neighbourhood after they missed the dropzone on the 18th of September on the Ginkel Heath. Doctor Lt Oliff notices that Badham has bruised his ribs.
The same day, gamekeeper Schriek calls from the Hindekamp to the headquarters of the Ede Resistance and explains that there are 'tommies' in the woods near Nieuw Reemst. The resistance makes a plan and retrieves most of the paratroopers from the forest and walk across the Eder Heath in the direction of Lunteren. A large number of paratroopers are housed in the sheepfold of Gijs Jansen at the Zecksteeg. Two wounded, amongst them Badham, are transported by horse and cart along the Rijks Road to Ede. They first receive shelter at Mrs Dulfer-Ploeg's house on the Grote Street in Ede. On the 22nd of October Aircraft Operator Badham joined the major escape operation Pegasus I, during which, the resistance returned 140 men through German lines to their troops to the south of the Rhine.
George Wood is assigned to Secret Agent Gilbert Sadi Kirschen, he helps encrypt and decrypt messages, and he is asked to bring special film material to Nijmegen. On the 3rd of October, Wood manages to get to the area of Betuwe via a secret route, and after a difficult journey, he reaches the headquarters. On the 7th of October, he boards a Dakota plane as a reported missing person. And, to everyone's surprise, he returns to England and they are delighted.