Lincolnshire Lancaster Society
Memorial Flight (magazine)
Spring 2009 (editor Tom Allett)
The following article appeared in
- Memorial Flight in 2009.
I am grateful to Tom Allett, Ron Low (deceased) and Jan van den Driesschen for their work and contributions to this article relating to the three airmen, shot down over Holland in 1944 and later executed by the German SD, without any regard to the rules of the Geneva Conference relating to POWs.
Shot in Cold Blood (edited by Tom Allett and revised with pictures from the files of Fred Carter)
St Michaels Church in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, contains a Dutch flag which hangs as a memorial to three downed airmen that were murdered by their German captors in Holland. The following information was pieced together by Jan van den Driesschen and Ron Low.
In the late 1970s Ron Low (ex-83 Squadron) began compiling his former unit’s Roll of Honour. During this five year task, in 1982, he asked Dutch researcher Jan van den Driesschen to investigate a story about Flight Lieutenant Ronald Arthur Walker, pilot of Lancaster ND551 / OL-V ‘Victor’ from No 83 (Pathfinder) Squadron, which took off from RAF Coningsby on the night of June 21/11, 1944. Flt Lt Walker’s crew comprised Flt Lt Norman Cornell DFC (Nav), Flt Lt John Wells DFC (B/A) Flt Sgt Harold Houldsworth DFM (F/E), Flt Sgt Bailey DFM (W/O), Flt Sgt David Kelly DFM (R/G) and Flt Sgt Charles Taylor DFM (M/U). All seven men had already completed more than 40 operational trips and that night they were sent to attack the town of Wesseling, about nine miles south of Cologne. They didn’t return…
Nearly four decades later Ron Low learned that ‘V-Victor’ had crashed near the rural town of Valkenswaard within the province of Noord Brabant in southern Holland. Six of its crew members were buried in the cemetery at Woensel, Eindhoven.
Information from American records dated July 1945 stated that 551’s seventh crew member, Flt Lt Walker, along with two other airmen, had been shot by their German captors and that their mortal remains were cremated at the Vught Concentration Camp near Eindhoven,Holland. The two other unfortunate airmen were F/O Jack Stuart Nott, RAAF and F/O Roy Edward Carter, RCAF.
When Ron Low contacted Jan van den Driesschen, he asked: “Can you find out what happened,” and: “were the bodies cremated or buried at a secret spot?”
After going through the notes which he had made during the telephone conversation, Jan telephoned an acquaintance of his called Riny Elshout.
Riny lives in Noord Brabant and, as a technical sales man, knew a lot of people in that area.
Jan had first met Riny at a RAFA Amsterdam Branch meeting, where he was a member, in 1974.
F/L Ronald Walker RAF
Jan has always very much appreciated – and still does – that when they first met, Riny told him: “I was liberated in September 1944, I joined the Air Force in November 1944 and was trained to be a wireless operator by the RAF, but before I became operational the war was over.” Jan says that Riny is the only Dutchman who joined in 1944 and said to him straightforwardly: “I never flew on ops.” Jan notes that all the others whom he and his wife Connie had met (and there was quite a number), untruthfully boasted that they had flown operationally and had taken part in the food dropping sorties over Holland in April 1945 called Operation Manna.
Jan emphasises that it was largely thanks to Riny’s efforts, that he was able to provide Ron Low with all the details that enabled this story to be written.
ND551 was shot down at approximately half-past midnight on the morning of June 22, 1944, by a German night fighter patrolling around nine miles (15 km) south of the Dutch city of Eindhoven. A post-war letter written by a member of the Dutch Resistance revealed that at around 09:00 that June morning a RAF flier called Flt Lt Ronald Walker approached the premises of Dutch farmer Mr J Vethoven near the town of Bergeijk. Walker was alone and appeared to be the only surviving member of the crew.
Due to Nazi patrols, heightened due to the proximity of the nearby German border, the neighbourhood was far from being a safe hiding place. The fact that the farmer’s sister-in-law had already spent a year in prison for helping downed fliers meant that Walker had to be moved to a safer place right away.
Ronald told his Dutch helpers that his crew had fought off a night fighter attack, but their evasive action had taken them off track. He remembered that WOP/Ag Ron Bailey had discovered a fault with his radio and that navigator Norman Cornell was working hard to correct their height and heading when there was a shout from Charles Taylor in the mid-upper turret: “FIGHTER BELOW TO STAR…”, the last word was never finished. V- Victor exploded with a blinding flash before plunging to earth with six of its seven men still on board.
Ron Walker said he didn’t remember leaving the aircraft and must have been unconscious during his fall. After waking up on the ground he found his only injuries were bruises on his back and right leg. His wristwatch was still working. It was 5am and he struggled to believe that less than 12 hours earlier he had been eating a meal in the Officers’ Mess at Coningsby and now he was alone and venerable in an enemy-occupied country. He started to walk south-west in the direction of the Belgian border but after about 2½ miles (4km) he noticed the farmer’s wife pumping water in the farmyard. She was very concerned when she saw Ron Walker approaching, so she ran inside the house and called through the window to Bas van de Aaist who was working in a nearby field.
Bas was really a schoolteacher, but as a member of the Dutch Underground he was
working on the farm in order to hide his real identity from the Germans. Bas told Ron Walker to hide in a nearby cornfield, where, despite his earlier ordeal, he was able to spend much of the day sleeping. When darkness fell Bas had planned to take Walker to the Fathers of the Assumption Cloister at Bergjik, who would look after him until it was safe to pass him onwards along the Dutch escape chain. However, by coincidence another Underground colleague, Walter de Vries, arrived at the farm that day hoping to speak to Bas in secret and it was de Vries that ended-up taking charge of the RAF pilot. After Walker had changed into some clothes given to him by Bas, the two men set off to cycle the 20 miles (32km) to the Dutchman’s home. The Underground helper told Walker that he should just cycle along with him as if they were just two Dutchman having a conversation. As Ron Walker didn’t speak any Dutch, de Vries did all the talking and he simply added a simple: “yah,” (yes) every now and then. They made it to the safe house when Walker stayed until he was passed on along the Underground chain, spending a week on another farm where he met up with the 26-year-old Australian Jack Nott.
Eventually it was time to move on. On June 29, Walker and Nott, accompanied by de Vries and two other Underground men cycled off to another village. Leading the way was Walter de Vries, followed at around 30-yard intervals by Ron Walker, then a second resistance worker, then Jack Nott, with the third Dutch Underground man bringing up the rear. As they reached the town of Eindhoven they were held up by a German patrol. Walter de Vries stopped to show his Dutch identity pass, but while these were being examined Ron Walker cycled past. The remained of the party stretched out behind saw what happened and turned back. Of course Walker didn’t know where he was, so he simply continued cycling until de Vries eventually found him. The rest of the party caught up with them later outside Eindhoven and they all continued on to their intended destination in Waarle without further incident. Here they were taken to the home of Frans van Dijk, who already had two Canadian airmen hiding in his home.
F/O Jack S Nott RAAF
Frans would later comment that Walker was a very quiet man who didn’t talk very much, though he did say that Walker had explained that his Lancaster had exploded in mid-air with the bombs still on board.
Next stop on the escape route was the home of the four van Moorsel sisters who lived at Stationsstraat 43 in Waarle. When researching this article they told me that Ron had been rather quiet for the first day or two, but after that he became more talkative and began to enjoy their company, telling them of his experiences on ops.
He spent a lot of his time there drawing, but in the evening they would sometimes have parties together. Ron was said to be particularly amused when he saw Germans passing the window without realising that he was nearby. At last, on July 8, 1944, the chance came to have the four airmen transported across into Belgium on the next stage of their journey back into Allied hands.
Each of the airmen were given false Dutch identity cards and that evening the first two to be moved, Ron Walker and Jack Nott, were taken to Tilburg in a blue police car driven by a man known only as ‘Jantje’ who wore a police uniform. However, as the driver didn’t know his way around Tilburg he would need to be accompanied.
Leonie van Harssel
Two days earlier, on July 6, 1944, Leonie van Harssel; a young woman that was deeply involved in the escape line, had received orders that a number of Allied airmen had to be sheltered in her home town of Tilburg for one or two days before their transportation across the Belgium border.
She was informed about the four fliers that were hiding at Van Moorsel sisters’ house, so she went to see, Miss Jacoba Pulskens, better known to everyone as Aunt Coba, who worked as a cleaner in the town’s Public Works Office. Aunt Coba was a single woman aged 60, who had already defied the occupying Germans by hiding Jews and Allied airmen in her home. When Leonie explained the need to bring the airmen to her at Tilburg while on their journey Belgian, she immediately agreed to help. In fact, she was already harbouring a Canadian airman who had arrived at her house a few days earlier. (Roy Carter was in hiding at her neighbours house and the owners were worried and wanted her to move him to a new safe house)
There are differing views regarding the details of the fateful transfer of airmen which would go badly wrong.
Jan van den Driesschen’s research indicates that at around 8:00pm on July 8, Leonie van Harssel joined Jantje, Walker and Nott for the car journey with Roy from her house to the house of Coba Pulskens on the Diepenstraat. There was no room for the tall Roy in the small car so Leonie and her sister accompanied Roy on bicycles staying apart at a safe distance.
Similar police car,1944
Roy at van den Broek`s before Tilburg
Despite the fact that they were out during curfew hours, the police car and uniform provided a good cover for the Dutch Underground workers and they arrived safely at Aunt Coba’s Diepenstraat house, where they were entrusted into her safety.
F/O Roy E Carter RCAF
Inside Aunt Coba’s house, Nott and Walker met a Canadian airman called Roy Carter,
a 431 Squadron navigator who had been shot down on the night of June 16/17 while on his seventh op’. Carter had only just beaten them to Aunt Coba’s house, arriving by bicycle, escorted by members of the Underground after sunset.
Jantje then drove back to Waarle to collect the two other Canadians.
At around 11:30pm Jantje, together with two colleagues and the two remaining Canadian airmen to be transported climbed into the car and set off for Coba’s house. Initially the journey was uneventful, but as they approached the edge of Tilburg, the car was stopped by a German patrol. Several soldiers stood in the road while a corporal showing a red light, shouted: “HALT!” He demanded the driver’s identity papers, which were closely examined.
Coba Pulskens (circa 1943) Pg5
The driver told his cover story that the three men in the back were black marketers under arrest and the passenger sitting next to him was a colleague of his.
They had orders to transport the detainees to Tilburg Police Station for further interrogation. The ruse almost worked. The German corporal found the papers were in order and accepted the cover story. Then, just as the car was about to pull away one of the German soldiers asked one of the Canadian airmen sitting in the back of the car a simple question. The Canadian didn’t understand what was being said to him and could only sit ‘frozen’ in his seat. More questions were asked by the now suspicious soldier and soon the whole party was ordered out of the car and searched. Eventually their air force identity tags were found. All five men were arrested and taken away for interrogation.
While the Canadians caught in the car were handed over to the Luftwaffe at Gilze-Rijen airbase, Jantje and his underground colleague were subjected to hours of questioning and torture. Eventually the driver couldn’t stand any more punishment and told the Germans that the two airmen were on their way to the Diepenstraat in Tilburg. Still, he was able to fool the Germans by saying that he didn’t know the exact house number but that it was a house at the left side next to a large shop. He told them that they could expect three other airmen at the same address. The exhausted driver hoped that Aunt Coba and the three airmen would have realised that something had gone seriously wrong and left the house.
However, back at the Diepenstraat, as the evening crept on and nothing was heard of the other Canadians, Aunt Coba assumed that the plans had been changed. Also, the next day, Sunday, as no one turned up again she began to wonder if something had gone wrong. However, she dismissed the thoughts as the police car provided great cover and had been used successfully on many occasions.
Unbeknown to her, early that Sunday morning a Deenststelle (Officer) of the Sicherheits Dienst (German security police) in the town of s-Hertogenbosch, received orders to send out a squad of men to arrest three ‘British’ airmen in Tilburg. The raiding party consisted of seven men, Hans Harders, Albert Roesener, Karl Schwanz, Michael Rotschopf, Karl Brendle, Eugen Raffenbeul and Werner Koenz. All were armed, but dressed in civilian clothes.
They left the Dienstselle in two cars, driving to Vught, where they collected a third car and picked up a captured Dutchman. They then drove on to find the house in the Diepenstraat. No house number had been given, so they simply looked for a house next to a large shop.
Sjef van Eerdewijk, together with his sister Anna, ran a small food shop next door to Aunt Coba’s house. He was also involved with Coba’s Underground work. As Coba was a single woman, it would probably have seemed very suspicious if young men were regularly seen to visit her house, so they devised a solution where by the men being hidden would enter the shop and then, when it was dark enough, they would go across the back yard to Coba’s house.
Sjef van Eerdewijk went to mass that Sunday morning and on his way back he was astonished to see the blue police car parked in a street near to his home. His first impulse was to approach the driver, but he cautiously decided it was a bad idea and continued on to his shop. When he arrived at the door he noticed two German cars parked in front of the nearby baker’s shop owned by Mr van Heeswijk.
Suddenly, the front door of the house next door to the bakery swung opened and two men dressed in civilian clothes emerged carrying machine guns. They got into their cars and drove off in the direction of the parked police car.
With great dejection Sjef realised that they were searching for the three airmen, but he was mightily relieved to see them drive away. However, it was short-lived. Just as he opened his door at around 11:30, the two cars returned and pulled up outside his shop.
The Germans jumped out and one of them rushed in his direction. Sjef slowly turned around as if had no idea what was going on and just as he was about the close the door, the man pushed it wide open and walked into the shop.
One of the SDer`s.
“The shop is closed, I’m not open on Sunday,” said Sjef, but the German didn’t reply and pushed him into the living room.
“What do you want? What does this mean?” Sjef protested.
“IDENTIFICATION CARD!” the intruder demanded.
Inwardly Sjef was petrified, but he was able to control himself and showed his ID card. The German barely looked at it, but punched Sjef hard in the face, sending him crashing to the floor. Then, suddenly there was the terrifying sound of a burst of machine gun fire from outside…
While that German was forcing his way into Sjef’s house another, Michael Rotschopf, had knocked on the door of Aunt Coba’s house as the three Allied flyers were having a meal. As she opened the door, Rotschopf immediately pushed her aside and rushed inside carrying his machine gun. Coba followed him and saw the three frightened airmen being backed out of the house through the kitchen with their hands raised. Aunt Coba didn’t go any further because other Germans were now coming in through her front door.
When the airmen entered the back yard, despite the fact that they were unarmed and had their hands up in surrender, Rotschopf who had now been joined by other members of his group lined them up against a wall and mowed them down with machine gun fire. None of the badly wounded men died instantly and, despite his grievous injuries, one of them made a hopeless but instinctive bid to escape back into the house. Rotschopf simply turned and shot him dead as he staggered into the kitchen.
Some reports say that the man who was shot dead as he staggered into the house was the Australian Jack Nott. However, others believe that it was the Canadian, Roy Carter. It is unlikely that anyone will ever be able to confirm the poor man’s identity beyond any doubt.
Whoever it was that died in the kitchen, after shooting him dead the killer then turned his attention back to the two men who lay dying in the back yard. He kicked them both and their groans confirmed they were still clinging to life. Rotschopf calmly reloaded his machine gun and finished them both off with another burst.
Back inside Sjef’s house the patriot had realised with terror that the airmen must have been found and shot. Sjef’s captor now left him and rushed out into the back yard.
Sjef pulled himself up off the floor and, with amazing coolness, realised he must hide his radio. He scrambled upstairs, grabbed the radio and hid it amongst a pile of linen inside a laundry basket. Then he looked out of the window and saw two men lying on the floor. He then staggered back down the stairs and, despairingly, sank onto his sofa with his head in his hands.
After a short time the German who had assaulted him earlier re-entered the house, grabbed him by the arm and shouted: “Come along!” while pushing him into Aunt Coba’s house at gunpoint.
“Oh Sjef,” she cried to him: “this is terrible!”
Sjef, however, had regained his presence of mind and realised that his only chance of survival would depend on him convincing the Germans that he didn’t know anything about the airmen and that he only knew Aunt Coba as a neighbour.
“What is going on over here,” he asked her, but the Germans didn’t want them speaking to each other and Sjef was pushed out into the back yard. On his was out, he saw a bullet-riddled body lying on the kitchen floor. The German placed Sjef against the wall in the back yard, standing him between the two bodies lying on the floor before shouting: “I will give you two minutes to tell me who they are,” pointing at the two dead men with his gun before adding: “otherwise I will kill you.”
Sjef, facing the barrel of the gun, protested that he had no idea who they were.
After the German decided the two minutes were up it appeared that he believed that Sjef was telling the truth and ordered him back inside the house.
The man in charge of the German group, Hans Harders, told his colleague Roesener to arrest Sjef for further interrogation. He also told him to inform the Dutch police in Tilburg that three airmen had been shot while trying to escape and that they should recover and bury their bodies.
Then Harders asked Aunt Coba for a sheet to cover the bodies. In an extraordinarily brave act of defiance, the old lady produced a neatly folded Dutch flag which she had kept hidden ready for the eagerly awaited liberation and laid it over the bodies.
Later that day the three bodies were moved to the town’s St Elizabeth’s Hospital, where any evidence that could be found about their identities was taken. It was noted that collectively, the three men had been shot more than 100 times.
On July 12, the hospital’s records show that: “Three English pilots died from gunshot wounds” and that their bodies were taken in coffins to Vught Concentration Camp, which was known to have a crematorium. The coffins are recorded as being returned empty to the hospital.
Brave Aunt Coba was also sent to the Vught camp where she spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. Later, when the Allied armies were advancing towards the camp she was transported to the dreaded Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in northern Germany.
Coba died in its gas chambers in February 1945 aged 61; one of around 90,000 women to be murdered there. Alas, she and the three fliers have no known grave.
When news of her death reached the by-then liberated Tilburg, her friends hoisted the flag that had covered the airmens’ bodies to half-mast at her house
Sjef and Anna van Eerdewijk, along with their parents, had also been arrested and transported to Vught, but fortunately, their parents were soon released. Sjef and Anna would eventually follow them home after lengthy interrogations.
The underground ‘police driver’ and his resistance colleagues that were arrested by the German patrol on the outskirts of Tilburg were also sent to the camp at Vught.
Leonie van Harssel would survive the horrors of the camp and, two years later, would become a vital witness at the war crime trials held by the post-war British military courts. Her resistance colleagues arrested at the same time did not survive their imprisonment. Amazingly, the two Canadian airmen who were also seized during that disastrous road-block encounter were simply imprisoned. Both of them lived to return home again.
After the war had ended and Ron Walker’s family had received official notification of his death, his father Horace strove to discover what had happened during the last two weeks of his son’s life. This culminated in a visit to Holland and the site where Ron was murdered. He painstakingly collected his findings in an album, which passed into the hands of his daughter Dorothy – Ron’s sister – who was just 20 when her brother died. Sadly Dorothy died while this article was being prepared for publication.
ROTSCHOPF who fired all of the shots.
Fortunately, justice was seen to be done. In 1948 the seven members of the German
group responsible for the three murders were charged with committing a war crime and four of them, Cremer, Roesener, Rotschopf and Schwanz were subsequently sentenced to be hanged in September of that year. To date, we have been unable to find documentary evidence that those three sentences were actually carried out.
Back in 1982 Ron Low asked Jan van den Driesschen: “what happened to the flag?”
Riny and Jan discovered that Anna van Eerdewijk was still alive and living at the same address. However, her brother Sjef had died. When Jan met with Anna it was discovered that the flag had survived with a relative of Coba Pulskens, who agreed that the flag should go to the UK to form part of a memorial.
Ron Low, representing the 83 Squadron Association, invited Dorothy Walker, sister of the murdered Ron Walker, to travel to Holland to receive the flag and bring it back to England.
Ron Low and Dorothy Walker made the journey to Tilburg for what became a very special and emotional occasion.
… Jan van den Driesschen recalls: “I don’t think I will ever be able to put into words that very emotional moment when Dorothy held the flag in her hands for the first time. Even now, so many years after the event took place, I still feel tears burning in my eyes”.
Then Ron Low’s efforts pushed things a step further.
St. Michael`s Church at Coningsby, Lincolnshire, UK
In consultation with Dorothy Walker and her brother Alan, it was agreed that the flag, and a plaque recalling the heroism of Jacoba Pulskens, were to be placed in the Airmen’s Chapel at St Michael’s Church at Coningsby, Lincolnshire, which is dedicated to 83 (Pathfinder) Squadron.
On May 8, 1983, the dedication of both the flag and the plaque took place.
Representatives from the families of all three murdered airmen joined those from the Pulskens family, Anna van Eerdewijk, civic leaders from Tilburg and around 100 members of the 83 Squadron Association for the event.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Ron Low thought it appropriate that 83 Squadron should do something in return for the people of Tilburg and suggested the presentation of a memorial plaque to commemorate ‘Aunt Coba’.
In June 1984 the Mayor of Tilburg also thought that this was a good idea and it was agreed that the plaque would be given a permanent place in the Chapel of Maria ter Nood which had been built in the centre of the town after the war.
The date chosen for its unveiling was very appropriate, October 27, 1984, the 40th anniversary of Tilburg’s liberation.
Sketch of 49 Diepenstraat, Coba`s house where the shootings took place in Tilburg.
Resistance fighter Coba Pulskens (1884 – 1945) provided cover to Jews, Allied aircrews and members of the resistance during the war. On October 27 (Tilburg’s Liberation Day), each year a remembrance service takes place at a memorial rock dedicated to her name and holding engraved plaques with the names of the 3 airmen.
Wreath laid by Roy`s brothers, veteran Robert Carter and Fred Carter.