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Researcher seeks families of 20 Canadians shot down over Germany in 1944
Published Monday, March 19, 2018 10:16AM EDT Last Updated Monday, March 19, 2018 10:49AM EDT
A do-it-yourself researcher in Germany has found the site of a Second World War plane crash that killed 20 Canadians and is now looking for descendants of the victims.
Erik Wieman considers it a personal mission to locate downed wartime planes, spending hours combing through records and databases. He has co-founded a crash site research group and works to find the relatives of crash victims and memorialize the locations of their deaths.
He was researching the Canadian crew of another crash site in his village of Neuleiningen in Rhineland-Palatinate, when he took on his biggest investigation yet -- the Sept. 24, 1944 crash of a C-47 Dakota KG653 aircraft carrying 23 passengers. It was among 15 Dakotas en route from England to Italy and ultimately to India to deliver troops building two new squadrons to help in the fight against Japan.
There were Canadian, British and Australian airmen and soldiers on board and all were killed.
The aircraft’s journey was plagued by bad weather and navigational issues, which pushed it off course over Germany where it was shot down from the ground in broad daylight. Bullets hit the wing of the plane, which broke off as the aircraft plummeted towards the ground. The gunman, a fighter pilot named Julius Meimberg, later wrote that he only intended to ground the plane.
For some reason, only 16 graves were dug in the small village cemetery in Neuleiningen, so some of the victims were buried in the same grave. The bodies were later exhumed and moved to the Rheinberg War Cemetery in Germany.
Wieman, a Dutch native whose grandfather fought the Nazis but who married a German woman and moved to Germany in 1992, worked with a local newspaper to find witnesses to the crash. He was shocked when 15 people, all in their 80s and 90s, came forward and offered to help.
“We’re very lucky they could show me the site because I already knew the approximate area but not the direct area,” Wieman told CTV Montreal. “When they pass away, it would be much more difficult to find this place.”
Decades after the crash, searchers combing an open field last November were able to find pieces of plastic windows, tire fragments and small pieces of aluminum – some still with camouflage paint.
The research group has applied for a permit to search the site with metal detectors to locate the remnants of the plane where it may be resting underground.
The Royal Canadian Air Force often told families little about the location or circumstances of crashes, Wieman said.
“Years ago, when I found pieces of aircraft aluminum, the first thing I thought was ‘Do they know? Does the family know that this place is here?’ And I found out they usually do not know.”
Wieman, who is retired from the Dutch Marines and now works at chemical company BASF, has found many of the relatives of the soldiers killed in the crash, but has yet to find anyone connected with seven of the victims. He plans to eventually build a memorial at the site.
“This crash site, where so many people died, people walk by,” Wieman said. “It should, in our opinion, have a memorial to remember them. The crash site and the fates behind it should not be forgotten.”
Anyone with information can contact Erik Wieman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The names of the Canadian victims are:
Aircraftman 1st Class John Dunlop McVie, 18, born Trail, B.C.
Cpl. William Howard Campbell, 26, born Keene, Ont.
Leading Aircraftman Donald John MacDonald, 35, born Glace Bay, Cape Breton, N.S.
Leading Aircraftman Oliver Eugene Debs Bergen, 20, born Wetaskiwin, Alta.
Leading Aircraftman Robert T. Burden, 21, born Oshawa, Ont.
Leading Aircraftman Robert Marcel Armand Couturier, 23, born Notre Dame des Anges, Que.
Corporal James Cumming, 32, born Ft. George Inverness, Scotland, lived in Hamilton, Ont.
Leading Aircraftman Fred Larson Kristensen, 22, born Huntington, N.Y., lived in London, Ont.
Leading Aircraftman Maxwell James Foch Good, 26, born Woodstock, Ont.
Leading Aircraftman William John Scott Lundy, 19, born Vancouver, B.C.
Cpl. James Ernest Allen, 21, born St. Mary’s, Ont.
Leading Aircraftman Henry Studwell Watson, 19, born Maple Creek, Sask.
Sgt. Walter Frances Hughes, 40, born Revelstroke, B.C.
Leading Aircraftman Adelard Real Chevrier, 28, born Vaudreuil, Que.
Cpl. Lorne Hamilton Moreau, 37, born Almonte, Ont.
Cpl. Frederick William Sargeant, 35, born Wimbledon, England, lived in Toronto
Cpl. Howard John Hunter, 23, born Trochu, Alta.
Leading Aircraftman John Cyril Sutherland, 37, place of birth not listed
Leading Aircraftman Laurence Irwin Beach, 32, born Iroquois, Ont.
Leading Aircraftman Frederick Robert Leigh Gates, 21, born Charlottetown, P.E.I.
-With a report from CTV Montreal's Angela MacKenzie