'They were just so kind': German villagers go 'all out' for memorial to RCAF bomber crew
Family members, German villagers gather at site where bomber fell during 1944 raid, killing 7 Canadian airmen
The tiny hamlet of Spreckens, Germany, is now home to a new monument dedicated to the crew of a Royal Canadian Air Force bomber that crashed in a farmer's field there 73 years ago.
The monument was unveiled over the weekend at a ceremony that united relatives representing three of the airmen and the people of Spreckens, which is located about 100 kilometres west of Hamburg.
The Lancaster bomber nicknamed "Berlin Special" was taking part in a midnight raid on Hamburg on July 29, 1944, when it was hit by anti-aircraft fire.
Still carrying a full load of bombs, the disabled Lancaster flew into the ground near Spreckens and exploded.
Of the eight crew on board, only its Royal Air Force flight engineer managed to escape the burning plane and parachute safely to the ground.
The seven others, a collection of Canadians hailing from Montreal, Hamilton, Toronto and Edmonton, all died.
German villagers 'just so kind'
Edmonton resident Lloyd Truscott's 23-year-old uncle was the mid-upper gunner on Berlin Special. He and Montreal-area resident Jean-Claude Charlebois, a relative of the bomber's wireless operator, spent much of the last four years making the memorial a reality.
The duo and their wives were joined in Spreckens by Craig Scott, whose father David Scott was the only survivor.
"I thought it was just going to be a couple of people walking up to this plaque and saying, 'yeah, that was my uncle out there,' but these people went far beyond what we imagined," he said.
"They were just so kind to us."
The memorial, which bears the photos of the ill-fated crew and details of their bomber, stands in the same cemetery where five of the men were initially buried after being pulled from the wreckage by villagers.
"They went as far as to cut the trees down so we could see the crash site," Truscott said.
In the distance, a pole topped by the flag of the RCAF's 408 "Goose" Squadron marks the shattered bomber's resting place.
Truscott said Spreckens residents have offered to raise the flag every July 29, the anniversary of the crash, at the memorial site.
Ceremony stirs local memories
A number of Spreckens residents who remembered the crash came out to meet the Canadian visitors at the ceremony and share their stories.
One resident, Hans Hermann Heins, was just a boy in 1944 when he watched the burning plane fly silently over the village.
Two minutes later, the bombs onboard began to explode and several houses were damaged.
"The debris was thrown more than a kilometre," Truscott said.
The families were given four pieces of debris that had been scavenged from the plane after the war. The group also visited the graves of the five crew members whose remains were found, at Becklingen War Cemetery south of Hamburg.
Visit brings closure, and new friends
Truscott's family never talked about his uncle Harold, who was declared missing and whose body was never found. That silence sparked a quest for information on the crash that Truscott began in 1975.
The ceremony and visiting the crash site at Spreckens finally brought closure, Truscott said.
"The crater there, that to me is where he's buried. That's closure there."
"They were just so open and so willing to help us out on this," Truscott said.
"There's no animosity at all. They went all out and hope we come back next year. And we hope to get back, too."