Dutch town wants to trace tragic Taynuilt airman’s family

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Residents of a Dutch town are trying to trace Taynuilt relatives of a Second World War airman.

Flight Engineer Ian Douglas Crawford was only 21 when he had to bail out of a Halifax bomber on the way back from a successful mission on Essen in Germany in 1943. He was on board with four other crew from England and two from Canada  when they came under enemy fire.

David Van Coolwijk is one of a group of volunteers who want to build a monument in Muiden to remember the men whose bomber crashed near there 75 years ago on May 1.

The group still need final permission from the town council but hope the memorial will be ready to be revealed next May.

The ill-fated aircrew took off from RAF Elvington in Yorkshire at 11.53pm on April 30, 1943. It was Flt Engineer Crawford’s 13th mission.

Research revealed their attacker was German pilot Heinz Vinke, who  probably attacked the JB-803 from behind. Archives report German ground troops seeing a nightfighter chasing the bomber.

​Pilot Gordon Watson, the youngest of the crew, had no choice other than to descend to a lower altitude, said Mr Van Coolwijk.

‘It was a cloudy night and there was a drizzle, so visibility was very poor, and winds came from the east. At about two o’clock in the morning Watson started to circle above Muiden, Muiderberg and Pampus Island, giving the crew the chance to bail out of the damaged plane,’ he said.

Five crewmen, including Flt Eng Crawford, bailed out into the night sky and the cold waters of Ijsselmeer, a shallow freshwater lake.

Watson and tail-gunner Scarff both stayed on board, as the pilot then tried to make an emergency landing but the meadow at Muiden was too muddy and the Halifax lurched over and exploded at precisely 2.26am.

‘Scarff and Watson were found outside the aircraft, with severe head wounds. They were killed instantaneously, according to the local doctor and were buried the same day. The mayor of Muiden was present at the burial,’ said Mr Van Coolwijk.

​​In the days that followed the bodies of  four drowned crewmen, included Flt Eng Crawford, were washed ashore. Only the body of wireless operator William Louth was never found.

The six men all have graves in a small forest nearby called Muiderbos. Flt Eng Crawford’s poignant headstone reads: ‘Remembrance is a golden chain that binds us. Till we meet again. Mother.’

Contact has been made with some of the aircrew’s families but tracing relatives of Flt Eng Crawford has been a struggle.

His last known address found in old archives comes under Mr J Crawford. His father was John, of Salma, Taynuilt. His mother’s name was Jean Crawford.

Mr Van Coolwijk has tried Facebook and several online forums before contacting The Oban Times for help and also plans to contact Taynuilt Post Office.

‘I am looking for the relatives of Ian Crawford because I would like to know his story, what kind of person he was. What did he do before the war? And why did he join the RAF? Also, I am looking for photographs of Ian to give a face to a name written in cold stone. In this way, we will be able to continue telling their story and their heroism,’ he said.

It was Muiden historian Guus Kroon who came up with the idea of the monument. His brother, Willem Kroon, is getting more local people involved, and Frans-Jan ter Beek is raising funds for it while Mr Van Coolwijk has the job of research.

‘I started helping Guus because I already started researching the crew because me, my wife and my two children, Lisa, six, and Joost, who is four, place candles on the six graves every Christmas Eve to remember them and teach our children that these men came to liberate us and we should be thankful for their ultimate sacrifice,’ said Mr Van Coolwijk.

The volunteers have heard from a few of the aircrew’s families who plan to be at the memorial unveiling but the group is desperately hoping they will be able to find Flt Eng Crawford’s relatives in time.

‘They would be more than welcome to visit the revealing or whenever they are able to come over to Muiden. I will visit all the important locations and tell them everything I know,’ said Mr Van Coolwijk.

Mr Van Coolwijk plans to make an amateur documentary  about the crew and the fateful flight. Anyone who can help should contact Mr Van Coolwijk at davevancoolwijk@hotmail.com