Appeal to track down family of WWII Ramsey navigator killed over Europe
A BID to track down the family of a Second World War navigator killed during a bombing raid over Europe has been launched from across the other side of the world.
New Zealand man Darryl Robertson is desperately searching for surviving relations of William Butler Whitaker, an RAF reservist who died when his plane was shot down by enemy fire on May 24 1943.
Military records show Mr Whitaker, 22, was the youngest son of John William and Ellen Isadore of Ramsey, later of Fishponds, Gloucestershire.
His name is also one of dozens engraved on the Ramsey War Memorial. Mr Robertson is keen to get in touch with family members ahead of a 70th anniversary ceremony in 2013 to honour Mr Whitaker and the 16 other men killed on the same night above the skies of Markelo in Holland.
All 17 have been buried in a cemetery in the Dutch town - their graves tended by the townsfolk, through successive generations.
Writing from his Nelson home in New Zealand, Mr Robertson said: “William Whitaker was with 12 Squadron on a bombing mission to Dortmund that left from Wickenby base Lincolnshire in the UK.
“The Lancaster bomber was hit over Holland by a German fighter ace OBlt August Geiger and crashed near Markelo killing five on board and with two survivors.
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“A memorial sculpture using a bomber motor and propeller is planned in Holland in 2013. It will be unveiled at the Markelo General Cemetery for all the three crews including William Whitaker.
“It is my hope that his family will be contacted and have an opportunity to attend this proud day for the people of Markelo to honour their boy 70 years after his death.”
More than 500 allied aircraft flew from England on May 24 as part of a large scale airbourne assault. A cousin and close friend of Mr Robertson’s father was one of the 17 also killed.
Flight Sergeant Andrew McEwin was bomb commander on a Stirling bomber EF399, part of the RNZAF Squadron.
As it turned for home after helping to destroy two-thirds of the German city Mulheim, it was attacked by a German night fighter.
All seven men on board were killed, and their bodies buried in Markelo. Ten years ago Mr Robertson decided to find out more about his father’s relation and made contact with the New Zealand ambassador for Holland.
Through him and subsequent ambassadors Mr Robertson has forged a strong link with the town and its residents.
He has got in contact with the son and brother of other members of the crew.
Ian Wilcockson was just six when his father Walter was killed. Thanks to Mr Robertson’s research he was able to visit his father’s grave before he also died.
Keith Burbidge’s older brother Ken was among the dead, and in November last year he too visited the town and found a very warm welcome.
An invitation issued by a Markelo history group encourages relations of all 17 families to visit the town, for the 2013 anniversary.
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