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Dutch volunteers and specialists still busy clearing plane wrecks and ammunition

Thousands of WWII crash sites

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

WILNIS, the Netherlands – The country so widely-known for its windmills, tulips, dikes and cheese also is a huge graveyard where thousands of WWII Allied warplanes upon impact frequently drilled deep into spongy soil. In particular, the IJsselmeer hid from view numerous crashed bomber and fighter aircraft. The wrecks often were the grave of airmen and held live ammunition.

Volunteer groups all over the country have taken on daunting tasks to raise such remaining wrecks, piecing together histories of the planes and their crews, tracing families of the airwar’s casualties, creating awareness of such sacrifices and frequently commissioning and erecting monuments to keep alive the memories of the fallen.

While people in Allied countries often were determined to go on with life – the war years at home in most instances were very difficult, and painful where it concerned wounded-in-action and casualties among family and friends – the Dutch who in Western Europe faced severe hardships in WWII’s ‘home stretch’ greatly rejoiced at their regained freedom. The Dutch also on a daily basis lived with the reminders of what the war had inflicted on them (besides all the casualties of the hostilities, there were the wholesale population evacuations, the large-scale hunts for able-bodied men, the systematic plunder of food, material and other assets as well as the destruction through warfare and spite). The war cut deep furrows into the Dutch consciousness. For decades, in conversations it showed a breach in history, things either had happened before or after ‘the war.’


Many of the volunteers who now are the driving force behind such remembrance manifestations for the liberators, themselves are too young to have experienced the Nazi occupation, or the liberation. Many became aware of the Allied sacrifices through projects such as their class or school adopting a monument or a grave.

The after-effects of WWII still linger. The bomb removal units of the Dutch armed forces on a weekly basis removes and disposes of live ammunition, often from densely populated areas and from busy railway corridors. Dredging waterways and excavating for new subdivisions frequently are interrupted because a hard object needs to be examined before work can proceed again. At times, people working and living nearby those sites temporarily must be evacuated.


In September 2002, the Dutch closely followed the progress of raising the wreckage of the Vickers Wellington HE727 NA-K, until then the suspected grave of three crewmembers. Two months later, the remains of Warrant Officer I Robert B. Moulton and Flight Sergeants J.E. Adrien Thibaudeau and Joseph White were carried to their final resting place with military honours.

Since then, a monument was unveiled at Wilnis, honouring the three fallen Canadian airmen. They had died on May 5, 1943, precisely two years before the Central Dutch village could welcome their liberators.