INTRODUCTIONOn May 10th 1940 the German forces entered Belgian territory and forced our country to surrender within 18 days. The Belgian soldiers that were captured, were deported to Germany, as well as members of other groupings, such as persons who refused to carry out work, patriotic societies and ethnic groups.
These people were employed obligatory in Germany in the war industry. A small part of these people was employed in the agricultural sector in order to take over the place of the German youngsters who were called up to military service.
The Allied Powers then joined hands to stop the German march and also in England as well as in the United States weapons and aeroplanes were being produced for the defence of the country, the sea and the airspace.
At this part of the Channel, groups were founded secretly to render the occupation more difficult. They collected information on troop movements and defences that were put up, and this information was sent to England. The occupation was also hampered by acts of sabotage that were committed. The war production in England also reached full revs with the production of ammunition, vehicles and aeroplanes. These aeroplanes were to bomb Germany in order to destroy or to slow down the war production.
Among the aeroplanes that were built the Wellingtons were surely the most famous ones. In 1939 already 179 Wellingtons figured on the defence balance list. There were also a great number of Hampdens and Whitleys in use. After 1941 they were gradually supplemented with four-engine types such as the Lancasters. When in 1945 the production was stopped, 11,461 aeroplanes of this type had been produced. These Wellingtons were provided with two 1.500 hp engines, type Bristol Hercules XI. Wingspan: 26.26 m (86 ft.), length: 19.68 m (64.5 ft.), height: 6.33 m (21 ft.). Maximum starting weight: 13.381 kg. Maximum speed at 3,380 m (11,000 ft.) was 410 km/h (254 miles/hour). The armament was like this: two 0.303 inch machine guns in the nose-turret, four machine guns in the tail, two on both sides of the fuselage and a bomb load of 2.041kg (4.500 Ibs).
These aeroplanes were stationed all over England, but predominantly in the south and the east of the country. Each day bombings were carried out on Germany, mainly on the Ruhr region. Later, after extra fuel tanks had been installed, the aeroplanes could even reach Dresden and Leipzig.
In the east of Belgium searchlights were installed by the Germans to trace aeroplanes that were on their way to and from Germany. Half a dozen of these searchlights were put up within the city limits of Genk. Near to these searchlights there were always several pieces of anti-aircraft guns placed in position, such as the Flaks. One of these searchlights was put up in the neighbourhood of Boxbergheide, and this where now Winterslag's 4th Cité (former lodgings of migrant miners) is situated, near to the current Lindestraat.
Otherwise Boxbergheide was a vast plain of heather with a few scattered farms.
THE FLIGHT & CRASHWe shall now investigate the development of the aeroplane's flight that has crashed here.
At 5h30 pm, briefing at Oakington base (Cambridgeshire) where the 101 Squadron was stationed.
Seven aeroplanes would take part in the assignment. The city of Cologne was the target. All the details were gone through, such as the weather, the target, tasks, obstacles and a 'good luck'.
Moreover, two planes were kept in readiness as reserve. The planes were loaded with fire bombs, three heavy bombs of 500Ibs and one of 250Ibs.
The plane that we follow was meant to carry out flight A and carried number "R 1703".
At the enclosed briefing can be seen who part of the crew was. On the way back from Germany the bomber was attacked by German fighters and was shot ablaze by the anti-aircraft guns (Flak). The bomber first flew over Boxbergheide in the direction of England and has then returned. Although it was an aeroplane that could take quite some damage it lost several parts, such as a part of the wing that fell in the Congostraat in the garden of the family Thys as well as an engine, which fell on the premises of Jan Bollen's farm in Boxbergheide, near to where we can now find the Kievitstraat.
Three crewmembers had been able to leave the burning aeroplane in the early stages with their parachute and they were taken care of by members of the local resistance which brought these men back to England via escape routes through France, Spain and Portugal. These three crewmembers were Sgt. Woods, Sgt. Warburton and Sgt. Hutton.
The other three crewmembers were killed on the spot in the fire, which started when the plane crashed down. The names of these crewmembers are: Pilot Officer Ashton, Sgt. Redden and Sgt. Lane. All this happened on August 31, 1941 (local time) or September 1, 1941 (English time).
After the fire nothing of the plane was left but a few scattered pieces of wreckage. The occupying forces also arrived quickly on the place of the accident and buried the three killed airmen on the spot.
THE FIRST CROSSAt first the graves in the heather were bordered with stones and a cross had been made of white stones. These graves were constantly destroyed wilfully by the Hitler youth, but again and again the graves were repaired by dissident people and by local youth. Already in those days flowers were often put on the graves, not only by Miss Jeanne Dries, who regularly plundered the bushes at home, but also by Mrs. Leonie Decosemaker-Thoelen who ran a shop in the Winterslagstraat in Genk. A short time after the aeroplane had crashed down, a wooden cross was put on the spot by the Glowacki Aloys (°Herne (D) 19-01-1909 †Genk 19/9/1995) and his wife Plocinnik Antonie (°Ickern Castrop Ranxel (D) 20-03-1922 †Genk 08-02-1989). Mrs. Antonie Plocinnik was expecting their son Jan, born on the October 25, 1941.
The wooden cross which was put there, was made of burnt wood and its horizontal beam had the shape of an aeroplane's propeller. This wood en cross stayed there until all of a sudden a concrete cross, provided with the year 1943, was put in its place. This concrete cross had been made on the sly in the Winterslag mine by the employees. It was on a dark late light between 10 pm and 11 pm that the cross was put on its place by its producer: Mr. and Mrs. François Beelen, assisted by Pierre Reis, engineer from Verviers, and his wife, Rogiers Helena, from the mine's drawing office.
At that time Mr. Beelen was bead of the production department of the Winterslag mine, and he a1so made the crosses that were put on the graves of Russian prisoners of war that had died during their work in the underground workings. We are talking about a time of full occupation and one can imagine to what kind of danger these people exposed themselves, as such a concrete cross is not easily hidden under a coat.
Already during the occupation Miss Daisy Gielen wrote to the Red Cross in order to know the names of the fallen airmen, in which she succeeded. She was also involved in the escape routes that brought the soldiers back to England.
After we had been liberated in 1944 and after Germany's capitulation in 1945 flowers were frequently put on the graves by local children.
A few years later a committee had been founded with Miss GieIen, Frans Beelen and Jean Loix, who became the committee's first president. Together with Albert Taylor's help this committee started to think in terms of a lasting commemoration.
The three fallen airmen were disinterred by the British services and taken to Schaffen where there is a military graveyard and where a ceremony is held each year to commemorate the fallen soldiers.
In total: 127 Britons, 45 Canadians, 14 Australians, 3 New Zealanders, 3 South Africans en 1 Belgian, died on Limburg soil for our liberation.
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MONUMENT HEATH CROSSIt was thought at that moment to put up a monument by means of which we could commemorate these people.
The parish priest, Michel Boonen, has also played a very active role in the endeavours to put up that monument. The committee got into contact with ecclesiastical, civil and military institutions to come to an agreement. Several drafts were compared to each other and finally the draft of Raf Mailleux, artist-sculptor, was accepted. It is a draft in moelonstone with a wall length of 6.80m (22ft4") and a height of 2.20m (7ft ") or a surface of 42m² (160 square feet). For the foundations 12.80 m³ of concrete was used. The front garden partly consists of plants and flat stones. The illumination is switched on and off together with the street lighting. The monument has been built by three local volunteers whose names are carved in the monument's rear. The construction was made possible as the piece of land was put at the committee's disposal by the churchwardens. Materials and transport were paid for by the municipality of Genk. There was also a close collaboration with provincial, municipal, military, ecclesiastical and civil institutions. At that time also honorary membership cards were sold at BF 2.000 each.
INAUGURATIONThe monument was inaugurated on September 27th 1970, in the presence of a delegate of King Baudouin, a delegate of the British Embassy, the Marshal of the Royal Air Force, the Commander-in-chief of the Allied Forces in Germany and Central Europe, and the RA.F.'s Commander-in-chief in Germany. Also Belgian highly placed officials - ecclesiastical, civil as well as military - were present at the ceremony. Even the R.A.F. Germany's Royal Standard, at that moment just received out of princess Anne of England's hands, was present. Also soldiers of the 10th Wing in Kleine Brogel and the complete R.A.F. Germany Band were present. Starfighters of the Belgian Air Force an R.A.F. Harriers together carried out a flight over the monument.
The ceremony ended with parachutists from Schaffen, that were dropped from a helicopter and who mustered afterwards to pay a floral tribute to the three airmen.
Bouquets and wreaths were also put at the monument by the above-mentioned personalities, completed by patriotic societies, the resistance and war veterans. Already then in 1970 flowers were also put at the monument by pupils of the local primary school.
Every year on the 2nd Tuesday of September a similar ceremony takes place which is attended by many personalities, as well as by the war veterans' united front of the municipality of Genk, together with some 400 local children.
Also present every year is a delegation of the 101 Squadron with their standard and the R.A.F.
Band. This R.A.F.'s 101 Squadron has lost in all 1.140 crewmen during the war for country and for freedom.
Wednesday, day after the official ceremony, it is the littlest who do their bit. That day the four and five-year-old local children pay a floral tribute their way.
The 2nd Tuesday in September has been chosen especially for this occasion because of the fact that the heather is in bIoom at this time of year and one goes quiet at the sight of the beautiful harmony between monument and scenery.
The location of the present monument is not the actual place where the aeroplane has crashed down. The monument is situated a bit further up the hill. The last two years there has been a flight over the monument by the supply aircraft V.C.10.K.2. UA nation that honours its deceased, is a great nation." Keeping this proverb in mind, it has to be an incentive for us to continue along the same lines.