A crash on Terschelling
Sgt. Edmund John Roberts FOWLER, 20, 2nd pilot, 1211175, RAF (VR), Grave 36
Sgt. William RUTHERFORD, 26, Wop/Rg, 942274, RAF (VR), Grave 37
Return to Terschelling(taken from a paper article of unknown origin)
On the night of January 20th, 1942 a twenty-year-old Canadian Wireless operator-airgunner from Pine Falls, Minetoba, parachuted from his stricken Wellington bomber to land near a village on the German-held Dutch Island of Terschelling. There, suffering from numerous bullet wounds and a broken wrist, he was arrested by an enemy patrol. Fifty years later that same Canadian, now a retired mechanical engineer would return to the Island of Terschelling ... but this time to a much different kind of reception. George Groves and his daughter, Hope, would be the central figures in the island's fiftieth anniversary of its liberation from the Nazis. For George this latter visit evoked deep and conflicting emotions: pride and appreciation that he should be so singularly honoured by the Dutch islanders. Sadness at having to relive a terrible night of pain and death endured so many years before.
George Groves' wartime story began at Pine Falls, in the summer of 1939 in a clump of poplar trees adjacent to the Groves' family dwelling. It was in the shelter of these trees that eighteen-year-old George kept his car. A vehicle of erratic temperament and sundry origins, somewhat resembling a horse fly without wings and with sufficient seating space for four skinny kids. But for us teenage boys for whom a car to drive was far beyond our fondest dreams, it marked the very pinnacle of power and affluence. It was around this vehicle we gathered to discuss important issues such as ways and means of raising funds with which to keep the thing in operation. But on a summer's day of 1939, it was not the welfare of a car that caused us grave concern:
Hardly a week passed that the Germans. Italians or the Japanese didn't swallow more of someone else's territory. England was about to strike in righteous anger. There would be a war. But it was not the horrors of a major war that worried those who sat around the car that day. It was the awful thought that we might miss the grizzly mess that when Great Britain finally got angry, the fighting would be over in a day or two and we: Harold Anderson, Elliot Hunter, George Groves and I would have to go through life deprived of ever having been fired upon in anger. Something had to be done about the situation and, to that end, George Groves had a plan: we would hop a freight train for the East Coast of Canada where we would board a cattle boat bound for England. Item we would join the Royal Air Force.
We would observe the fireworks from the air. It was a good plan and would have worked well had it not been for our parents. Harold, Elliot and I were forced to find our war a little later. George, however, got into his car that looked like a horse fly without wings and drove to Winnipeg. From there, he commenced a journey from which he would not return for six years.
In recalling the experience that followed, George Groves states: "I arranged through an uncle of mine who worked for the CPR for a job on a cattle train going to Montreal. This was in July. After two or three weeks of waiting in Montreal, I managed to get a job on a CPR Beaver class cattle boat bound for Britain. I landed in Glasgow and from there hitched a ride on a lorry going to London where Royal Air Force Recruiting Headquarters was located. I signed up as wireless operator.
After spending several months as a ground operator, I applied for gunnery training and eventually was posted to Wales where I received my training as an air gunner. After graduating from gunnery school, I was sent to an operational training unit and from there to a Fairy Battle squadron. At the time Dunkirk took place, our squadron, No 12, was flying from Binbrook station in Lincolnshire.
After Dunkirk commenced the massing of a large fleet of invasion barges which it was our job to attack and destroy. In order to be closer to our target we were sent to the island of Sheppey on the Thames estuary. Here fortunately, the German bombers flying up the Thames bombed our airfield making takeoffs or landings impossible. Although we were able to remain in our barracks we were forced to do our flying from Detling on the Mainland which station had also been bombed out but where the airfield was still usable. We continued to bomb the channel ports until our losses became too great and we were sent to Thorney Island near Portsmouth and, eventually back to Binbrook. Here it was decided to convert our squadron from Fairy Battles to Wellingtons. This conversion completed, we resumed our bombing of German targets. It was on my twenty-eighth operation that my crew and I wore shot down by an enemy night fighter."
On the night of January 20th, 1942, Wellington bomber PH-Y bearing its crew of six was returning from a bombing raid on Emden when a burst of cannon and machine gun fire from a German night-fighter ripped through its tail turret, killing the gunner Sgt. Rutherford. A second burst struck the forward gun turret and astrodome, wounding F/Sgt. Groves in the legs and feet and killing the second pilot, Sgt. Fowler. As related by George Groves: "Our pilot, Flight-lieutenant Thallon, told us to bale out, that, although he had engines, he couldn't control the aircraft. I crawled from my position in the front gun turret up to the pilot's cockpit. There I opened the hatch and looked down to see nothing but the ominous blackness of the North Sea. True, I was badly shot up, but I was only twenty-years-old and not quite ready for a death by drowning. "Can you make it over that island just ahead," I asked the pilot? Somehow Thallon was able to manoeuvre the crippled Wimpy over the landfall and I, along with Pilot Officer Ross our observer and our other Wireless Air Gunner F/Sgt. Walker 'hit the silk'. Flight-lieutenant Thallon could not follow for he had thought he saw the second pilot move. Believing Sgt. Fowler to be still alive he could not abandon him. I landed somewhere near a village in the centre of the island and was soon arrested by the Germans. The others who had jumped were also picked up by the enemy. The pilot, I learned much later, successfully crash-landed what was left of Wellington PH-Y on a gravel beach on the north shore of Terschelling Island.
Following his capture, George was placed in the care of an Austrian doctor who was able
to have him flown to a Luftwaffe hospital in Amsterdam. Here he would remain for several
weeks before being transferred to a convalescent home in Bavaria. From the convalescent
home, he was sent to a prison camp in Germany. He would remain there until the war ended
Once back in England, George transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force and was finally repatriated to Canada... a happy move for him as he had been told that he would be retrained for service in the Far East campaign which, at the time was far from over.
Fifty years had passed the War a fading memory when George Groves, retired mechanical
engineer living in Oliver, British Columbia, received a telephone call from Holland."Are you Mr. Groves?" a strange voice said. "Yes," replied George.
"But you must have the wrong Groves. I don't know anyone in Holland."
The voice persisted. "Are you not the George Groves who was aboard an aircraft, shot down over Terschelling in 1942?" "I am". The speaker in Holland then explained that he had been trying unsuccessfully to contact other members of the crew of Wellington bomber PH-Y: Walker, the other Wireless operator-air gunner was very ill and not expected to live; Thallon, the pilot could not be found while there seemed to be no trace of the whereabouts of the New Zealand observer Ross. At last, he had tried Groves in Canada All that was wanted, the speaker further explained, was information as to what had happened on that fateful night in 1942, his reason being that they were using that particular aircraft as a centrepiece for Terschelling's Liberation Day celebrations.
In George's words: "I told the caller all I knew then phoned my daughter, Hope, in
Calgary. Hope told me that if I wanted to go to Terschelling for the occasion, she would
accompany me. Two weeks later we were on our way to Amsterdam.
In Amsterdam, a young Dutch couple, Ger and Christel Boogmans who were making a second career of tracing the stories of all Wellington -aircraft shot down near or over Holland during the war, met us. I was on their list along with all those details pertinent to my experience. The couple booked us into a hotel and two days later drove us to Northern Holland where we took a ferry to Terschelling.
Upon our arrival at the island we found that we would be staying at the home of the
museum curator, and his wife, Gerald and Jet de Weerdt. There throughout our visit, Hope
and I were treated like nobility.
On the second day at Terschelling we received a very special honour ... a private viewing of a presentation depicting the effects of war upon the little island and its people. This presentation hold in the museum did honour to all of the allied aircraft and their crews shot down in that vicinity. Later, when the displays opened to the public the response of the local population to our presence was so enthusiastic that, for me, it was embarrassing. There were many high ranking Dutch Air Force officers present, one a Colonel who had trained at Cold Lake in Alberta. Everyone spoke English making communication easy. Following the ceremonies at the museum, the Burgomaster, invited us to her Terschelling council chamber where we were treated to drinks and a snack."
In recalling his revisit to Terschelling, George states that his one sad moment came
during a visit to the local cemetery where he saw for the first time the graves of his
fellow crewmen and placed flowers and crosses in their memory. Says George: "It was
quite an ordeal.... for me, a very emotional moment. But the events to follow would soon
raise my spirits."
From the cemetery, the parade led down to the waterfront where George and Hope boarded an old army jeep in which they were driven to the spot where Wellington PH-Y had crashed. Nearby on the beach was a little bar where everyone enjoyed a few beers.
On the next day,father and daughter were with Ger and Christel back on the Dutch Mainland in a town called Workum. Here, they had lunch and watched the big Liberation Day Parade roll by. After attending the air show at Soesterberg they then flew to England.
Before departing England for home and Canada, George and his daughter spent a while visiting with a friend of George's who had once been a member of his crew but who fortunately was not with him on the night PH-Y was shot down. Of his triumphant return to Terschelling, George Groves states, "'It was wonderful ... beyond words."