Irish and British airgunners buried with military honour in Bergen

'Mother will be delighted'

by eric molenaar

BERGEN - A sun-transvased cemetery. A moment of silence. Two Harvard-AT6 planes of the Royal Dutch Airforce make a fly-past to honour the Irish John Kehoe and Briton Stanley Mullenger. They died on the 8th of November 1941 when their RAF-bomber was shot down at Berkhout. Their aircraft was excavated last year.

Yesterday the remains of the two air gunners were buried with military honour on the Bergen General Cemetery, in the presence of their family and many others interested. In a grave behind their pilot Chris Saunders and navigator James D'Arcy. After more than 66 years they were at last reunited.
To Margaret Walsh-Kehoe (88) it's the fullfilling of the last wish of her mother. ,,I never thought I would see this day. Mother is delighted. Father proud.''
The burial was preceeded by a Commemorative Service in the Petrus and Pauluskerk, conducted by the reverend Tim Wright and father Kees Groenewoud.
They honoured not only the airgunners, but also the crewmembers that have allready been buried in 1941: Saunders and D'Arcy.
Members of the Queen's Colour Squadro carried the coffin containing the remains of Mullenger and Kehoe to their final resting place. The coffin was covered wit the flag of the United Kingdom. Mayor Leonie Sipkes of Koggenland, the district where the bomber was excavated, was afraid this would be shocking for the Irish family and in advance she asked if it would be possible to have the Irish flag also on the coffin. ,,We brought it along. '' But the protocol doesn't allow that.

On the Commonwealth part of the cemetery a sepulchre was made right behind the stones of Saunders and D'Arcy. Symbolic for the reunion of the crew of Hampden P1206.
Near the sepulchre Margaret Walsh sat with her daughter Ellen, beside the Irish and British ambassador. Behind them the other Irish family members, cousins of Stanley Mullenger and the twin-daughters of pilot Saunders. One of them, Jackie Purser, recited a poem. A poignant text about four men who made jokes on their airbase Scampton, but didn't return of their flight to Germany. ,,They always have been missed, but their sacrifice wasn't for nought '', Jackie said. The twin was three when their fathers died.


At two moments Margaret Walsh was extra emotional. When the Last Post was played and during the fly-past of the two single-engined Harvard planes. After the lowering of the coffin musicians of the Dutch Army played the national hyms of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Family members and representatives of the countries, communities and military units involved layed whreats at the grave.
In the afternoon flowers were laid at the monument with the propeller of the Hampden, which was revealed in Berkhout, near the crash site.
The mission of the Irish family, which seemed impossible in 2005, has finally succeeded. For them it was unbearable that Kehoe was lying 'under a potato field'. Walsh' daughter Margaret Tracey: ,,Now at last he's in consecrated ground, with his comrades. They died together, now they lie here together. ''

Source: Noordhollands Dagblad, May 8, 2008
Look at the NHD-site for a video and photograph album
Click here for photograph album Eric Molenaar (151 images)
See also: Freedom doesn't go without saying