Born: 1918, Ipswich.
Died: 21st July 1944; age:25; aircraft shot down at Steelhoven..
Rank: Flight Lieutenant/Pilot; Service Number: 174025
Regiment: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 15 Squadron.
Aircraft: Avro Lancaster
Medals Awarded: Distinguished Flying Cross – London Gazette 14th July 1944 – Acting Flight Lieutenant Walter John Bell (174025), R.A.F.V.R., No. 15 Squadron.
One night in early June 1944, Flight Lieutenant Bell was pilot and captain of an aircraft detailed to attack a target in France. Shortly after bombing the target, he encountered two Messerschmitt 410’s. One of these, approaching from the port, was driven of by the gunners. At the same time the second opened fire and caused severe damage to the aircraft from cannons and machine guns. The gunners opened fire and hit the Messerschmitt on the fuselage. It dived and exploded in the air. A Cannon shell had however, exploded in the fuselage of Flight Lieutenant Bell’s aircraft. The navigator was killed and the pilot sustained a slight injury. Part of the starboard wing was shot away, carrying with it the starboard aileron. The starboard inner engine then caught fire. The front turret and instrument board were out of action and the brakes and flaps unserviceable. In the precarious position however, with assistance from the bomb aimer who took over the navigator’s tasks, Flight Lieutenant Bell, tough in pain from his wound, by skillful and determined airmanship succeeded in flying the damaged aircraft back to this country and executed a difficult crash landing with great coolness.
Relatives Notified & Address: Son of John James Bell & Agnes Rebecca Bell, of Ipswich.
Father: John James Bell, born 1896 – died 1930, Ipswich.
Mother: Agnes Rebecca Bell (nee Talbot), born 1900, Dalinghoo, Suffolk.
21st July 1944
Aircraft: Avo Lancaster I; Serial Number: R5904; Code:LS-L. The aircraft took off at 23:30hrs from R.A.F. Mildenhall for air operations over Homberg, Germany. At 01:51hrs the aircraft was shot down and crashed near the hamlet of Steelhoven, 7 kms NW of Oosterhout, Netherlands. The 6 members of the crew were laid to rest at the Roman Catholic Cemetery, at Oosterhout. They were later moved to Jonkerbos War Cemetery.
Fred Glen Oakes; Warrant Officer/Air Bomber; age 20; R.C.A.F.
David George Evans; Flight Lieutenant/Flight Engineer; R.A.F.V.R.
Peter Bramwell Sweatman; Flight Sergeant/Wireless Operator; age 20; R.A.F.V.R.
Thomas Sandford Brookfield; Sergeant/Air Gunner; age 21; R.A.F.V.R.
James Bernard Brennan; Sergeant.
Alan D. Hayden; Pilot Officer; survived – PoW.
Alan followed the orders of Walter and baled out of the stricken aircraft and parachuted into unknown territory. An elderly couple showed him a safe place to hide overnight. The following morning a young Dutch girl took Alan to her family home at Den Hout. The family cared for Alan and helped arrange for him to move on to another ‘safe’ location. But after five days Alan was captured at Turnout by the Germans. He was moved around with many other R.A.F men before being sent to Belaria, a satellite PoW compound to Stalag Luft III. Just before dawn on the 28th January 1945, Alan and the rest of the camp inmates set off through the deep snow on what was to become known as ‘The Long March.’ On the 3rd February the PoW’s boarded a train, the journey in over crowded cattle wagons took Alan to the camp at Luckenwald. On the morning of the 21st April, the prisoners found their guards had all disappeared. The following day Russian tanks and lorries entered the camp. At the end of May 1945, Alan Hayden was repatriated to England by an American Dakota aircraft repatriated to England by an American Dakota aircraft. Alan returned to meet members of the Resistance in 1994, when he was given papers and items found at the crash site. Alan passed away in 2015.
Alan’s story courtesy of XV Squadron Association. www.xvsqnassociation.co.uk
More of Alan’s story can be found at http://xvsqnassociation.co.uk/archive/20151207-XV%20SQN%20Association%20Newsletter%20DEC%2015.pdf
R5904 was shot down and claimed as the 86th victory for Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer and his very successful team, radio operator Fritz Rumpelhardt and gunner Wilhelm Ganzler. Respectfully called ‘Night Ghost of St. Troad.’ They were the only complete crew in the Luffwaffe to be awarded the Knight’s Cross.
At the end of the war James Brennan’s mother, Sarah wrote an impassioned letter to the Dutch authorities asking if his rosary beads and St Christopher medal were found, but was told they had not been. In June 2014, the medal had been found by Dutch amateur military historians who made further enquiries…
and their persistence has paid off…!