Ken McLeod, whose Great Uncle, Ernest Tastard Christie (a wireless operator and gunner) and Bas Bruls, a Dutchman were referred to us by a member, Terry Mobley, whose father served for some time at Feltwell.
Here is their story:
My interest in 57 Squadron and Feltwell began whilst researching the RAF history of my Great Uncle Ernest Tastard Christie (a wireless operator and gunner) a few years ago. This research led me to meeting Bas Bruls who lives in a small town on the River Meuse in the Netherlands called Grevenbicht. Bas grew up in Grevenbicht and has always been fascinated about the local story of the British Bomber, a Wellington 1c registration code X9978 that was shot down one night in 1941 over their town, and over a period of time has accumulated many parts from the aircraft, other artefacts relating to the crash, and has researched the events of that night.
On the night of 15th October 1941, the Squadron sent 7 aircraft on a sortie to bomb Cologne Germany. X9978 took off last in formation at 18.25 hrs, carrying a load of 1 x 1000 lb and 5 x 500 lb bombs. It was also equipped with a camera. The crew that evening were Pilot Officer 404348 Keith John Miller, 2nd Pilot Sgt 742554 Neville John Lewery, Observer Sgt 748740 David Walter Jennings, Air Gunner Sgt 1061957 Brynmor Samuel Jones, my Great Uncle 2nd Wireless Operator and Gunner Sgt 1100680 Ernest Tastard Christie, and 1st Wireless Operator and Gunner Sgt 1253256 George William Turner Jackson.
Our research has revealed that upon approaching the target area, X9978 was caught in search lights which tracked the aircraft and the Luftwaffe were scrambled. X9978 made a turn away from the target; however, the searchlights remained fixed and their fate was eventually sealed.
Eyewitness accounts obtained during interview by Bas, state that X9978 made numerous attempts to evade the lights but eventually when above Grevenbicht, the Bomber was caught by Feldwebel Heinz Maier of night fighter unit 2/NJG-1 flying a Messerschmitt BF110 who had taken off from nearby Venlo. Further eyewitness accounts state that the pilots of X9978 wrestled with the aircraft to avoid hitting the village as it came down in flames.
The crew jettisoned at least two of the bombs, and three of the crew parachuted out of the aircraft but were too low and killed. The remaining crew unfortunately were killed as the aircraft struck the ground and exploded. German forces arrived on the scene and the remains of the 6 crewmen were taken to Venlo aerodrome nearby, buried and later reinterred at Jonkerbos War Cemetery in Nijmegen Netherlands.
The continued objective of our research is to identify living relatives and their families, together with as much information relating to the aircraft, 57 Squadron and Feltwell as possible with the view of publishing a book in remembrance of these brave men.
If you can help with our research in any way, please contact Geoff Reynolds, The Register Secretary.
See the photos below taken during the 75th anniversary memorial event of the crash. Click on any of the photos below for more details.
The Heligoland 39 search is underway. Click below to read about the search for relatives of the crews: