Quest for Scottish WWII pilot’s missing body

Colin Cripps (centre) with Dutch villagers near the crash site of the Lancaster carrying his uncle near Raalte in Holland on 13 June, 1943
Colin Cripps (centre) with Dutch villagers near the crash site of the Lancaster carrying his uncle near Raalte in Holland on 13 June, 1943
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A MILITARY historian is launching a worldwide appeal to trace relatives of a Scottish Second World War RAF pilot shot down by the Germans alongside his uncle to ensure the dead airman gets a “proper Christian burial”.

Colin Cripps says seven British airmen were in his uncle Sgt Basil “Bobby” Cripps’ Lancaster bomber from 49 (Bomber) Squadron when it was hit over Marienheem, near Raalte, in Holland, on 13 June, 1943, but there are only five graves in the local cemetery.

Sergeant Basil 'Bobby' Cripps

Sergeant Basil 'Bobby' Cripps

His extensive research, including interviews with Dutch villagers who were ordered by the Germans to dig graves for the airmen, reveals there are unanswered questions about where the remains of pilot John Hutchison, 30, from Brechin in Angus, and the mid-upper­ gunner, Sgt Edward Pearson, were buried.

Cripps, 56, from Occold, Suffolk, says one theory is that the bodies of both men were so severely damaged their remains were put in the grave of flight engineer Charles Dudley.

However, other locals maintain that the two bodies were left in the aircraft in the crater it made and the hole filled in.

Cripps, who has met the relatives of four of the dead airmen and “wants to see the story through”, is campaigning to get the crash site examined by the Dutch air force’s salvaging unit to see if the remains are there, and, if they are not, to have the graves exhumed to see if the two men’s body parts were indeed put in with fellow airman Charles Dudley.

An RAF Lancaster heavy bomber. Picture: Getty

An RAF Lancaster heavy bomber. Picture: Getty

Appeals made in Brechin have so far failed to trace relatives and Cripps is now widening the search to Scots overseas.

The details about the Hutchison family are that Hutchison’s father, a master jeweller, took his own life in 1947 by swallowing nitric acid. Mrs Hutchison died, aged 93, after a fall in her home in 1975 at Montrose Street in the town. Cripps has been unable to trace the pilot’s younger brother James or any other relatives.

Cripps said: “These young airmen went into 49 Squadron at RAF Fiskerton on 8 June, 1943. Five days later, in the early hours of 13 June, they were all dead in a Dutch field.

“They had been returning from a raid on Bochum, east of the Ruhr, when they were intercepted at around 2.37am by a German night fighter which had a pilot, Oberleutnant August Geiger, and radio operator Dietrich Koch on board.

“Witnesses say the night fighter harried the Lancaster as it was trying to get away. It seemed the pilot was attempting to crash-land when his plane’s wing hit a telegraph pole.”

He added: “I’ve met the families of four of the men. When I met the son of the navigator Charles Olson and saw him walking towards me it was very emotional.”

Earlier last week, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission wrote to Cripps saying that when the graves were exhumed in May 1945 there was only one body in Dudley’s grave.

The Bomber Command Memorial at Runnymede, in Surrey, lists Hutchison and Pearson as “missing”.

Cripps is now writing to Raalte’s mayor requesting he ask the Dutch air force to dig up the Lancaster.