'They were just so kind': German villagers go 'all out' for memorial to RCAF bomber crew

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 local farmer’s field 73 years ago.

Family members, German villagers gather at site where bomber fell during 1944 raid, killing 7 Canadian airmen

Lloyd Truscott, left, and Craig Scott look on as the memorial to RCAF Lancaster LL687 and its crew is unveiled by a British Legion honour guard in Spreckens, Germany. (Rainer Klöfkorn/Bremervörder Zeitung)

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.

Lancaster LL687 was nicknamed "Berlin Special" by its crew, who flew it on 11 successful missions before it was shot down on July 29, 1944. (Craig Scott)

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.

Canadians Lloyd Truscott and Jean-Claude Charlebois, left and centre, and England's Craig Scott, right, spent four years working on the memorial project and were finally united at its unveiling. (Rainer Klöfkorn/Bremervörder Zeitung)
Truscott said he never expected the people of Spreckens to get as involved as they did in their project.

"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.

The memorial looks out through a new clearing at the spot where the Lancaster crashed in 1944. (Facebook/Werner Schröder)
It enjoys a newly cleared view of the spot about 90 metres away where the big bomber fell to earth.

"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.

The crew of Lancaster LL687 pose for a photo. (Craig Scott)
"He saw the plane fly over, said it was very quiet, flames were coming out the back," Truscott said. "It came over about 1,500 metres above his place and just crashed into the field."

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."

Lloyd Truscott's uncle Harold Truscott was the mid-upper gunner on Lancaster LL687 and was declared missing after it was shot down. Harold's body was never found. (Rainer Klöfkorn/Bremervörder Zeitung)
The journey to get the memorial built also laid the foundation for some great new friendships with the people of Spreckens.

"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."