Museum looking to trace relatives of Potters Bar war hero killed in WW2 Lancaster crash in the Netherlands

Siewert Biewenga, Mrs Lily Lewis, Mrs Duurke Biewenga and Mr Charles Lewis in 1951 and flight engineer Sgt. George Lewis.

Siewert Biewenga, Mrs Lily Lewis, Mrs Duurke Biewenga and Mr Charles Lewis at Clacton-on-Sea on May 23, 1951 and flight engineer Sgt. George Lewis. - Credit: Dorpsarchief Kloosterhaar

A Dutch museum is searching for relatives of a Potters Bar war hero who was shot down over the Netherlands during World War Two.

Flight engineer Sgt. George Edward Lewis was killed in action along with his fellow Lancaster bomber crew on the outskirts of the frontier village of Kloosterhaar, near the border with Germany, during a bombing mission on the night of March 29-30, 1943.

Flt. Engineer Sgt. George Lewis.

Flt. Engineer Sgt. George Lewis. - Credit: Dorpsarchief Kloosterhaar museum

The son of Charles and Lily Lewis, of Potters Bar, which was then part of Middlesex, was just 20 when he died.

The Dorpsarchief Kloosterhaar museum is now researching the life of Sgt. Lewis, who was born in Potters Bar, and intend to dedicate a section of their museum to the war hero.

The Avro Lancaster crashed on farmland owned by a local farmer named Siewert Biewenga after being shot down by Luftwaffe night-fighter pilot Unteroffizier Christian Költringer.

All seven crew – four Australian RAAF members and three RAF crewmen – died.

Sgt. George Edward Lewis

Sgt. George Edward Lewis - Credit: Dorpsarchief Kloosterhaar

The enemy aircraft also went down in this fight, after being hit by return fire from the Lancaster's rear gunner Sgt Webb.

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Farmer Biewenga later found a leather glove of crew member George Edward Lewis.

After the war, he traced the Lewis family to Potters Bar, and returned the glove to his parents, Lily and Charles Lewis, in an emotional meeting.

The Biewenga and Lewis families during a pleasant day at Clacton-on-Sea in Essex.

The Biewenga and Lewis families during a pleasant day at Clacton-on-Sea in Essex. Farmer Siewert Biewenga and his wife are pictured with the parents of George Lewis at Clacton-on-Sea on May 23, 1951. From left to right: Siewert Biewenga, Mrs Lily Lewis, Mrs Duurke Biewenga and Mr Charles Lewis. - Credit: Dorpsarchief Kloosterhaar museum

This was the beginning of a friendship that lasted many years. Sadly, over the years the families eventually lost contact.

The Lewis family lived in Southgate Road during the Second World War.

The Dutch museum director, Freddie Ekkel, has managed to trace the farmer’s daughter, Edy Biewenga, who would like to re-establish contact with the Lewis family.

Freddie said: “After the crash, farmer Biewenga found a leather glove with Sgt. Lewis’ name written on the inside.

"It took him years to trace the family in the hope to return the glove to his family. He eventually succeeded and he personally took the glove to England to give it to George’s parents, Lily and Charles Lewis. Farmer Biewenga was accompanied by his wife Duurke.

“By all accounts it was a very emotional trip and meeting. They even enjoyed a day trip to Clacton-on-Sea together on May 23, 1951, along with visits to central London.

“The Lewis family were so pleased to have been able to receive the glove from their son."

There is an information board near the crash site in English, German and Dutch detailing what happened in 1943.

An information panel in three languages, Dutch, English and German, near the Lancaster crash site in the Netherlands.

An information panel in three languages, Dutch, English and German, near the Lancaster crash site in the Netherlands. - Credit: Melvin Chambers

Historian Freddie added: “We are in contact with the farmer’s daughter Edy, who remembers these meetings that took place in the 1950s.  

"Edy is now a pensioner and has a number of remarkable photographs and small artefacts of these meetings.

“She would like to show these to the Lewis family. Charles and Lily Lewis had 10 children. Sadly, three of them including George were killed in action.

“We in the Netherlands are eternally grateful to those brave men who gave their lives for our freedom we still enjoy today.”

A postcard dated 1947 sent by Charles Lewis to Siewert Biewenga, the Dutch farmer who returned a glove to the Lewis family.

A postcard dated 1947 sent from Potters Bar by Charles Lewis to Siewert Biewenga, the Dutch farmer who returned a leather glove to the Lewis family. - Credit: Dorpsarchief Kloosterhaar

Sgt. Lewis was a member of the 460 Squadron, which was assigned to the Royal Australian Air Force.

On that fateful night in 1943, their Lancaster was on a bombing mission to Berlin in Germany.

The crew took off from RAF Breighton in Yorkshire. The aircraft serial number was ED391, with fuselage code markings AR-E.

An information panel in three languages, Dutch, English and German, near the Lancaster crash site in the Netherlands.

An information panel in three languages, Dutch, English and German, near the Lancaster crash site in the Netherlands. - Credit: Melvin Chambers

Sgt. Lewis and the six other crew members are buried in the Hardenberg Protestant Cemetery in Eastern Netherlands.

According to the Commonwealth War Graves website, the personal inscription on his grave now reads: "Let your light so shine before men... and glorify your father which is in heaven."

The others that died in the Lancaster bomber crash were fellow Royal Air Force airmen Sergeant Ronald Cordingley, a bomb aimer, and air gunner Sergeant Sidney George Webb.

The Royal Australian Air Force victims were air gunner Flight Sergeant Robert Lincoln Potter, navigator Flying Officer Stephen Falcon Scott McCullagh, wireless operator/air gunner Flight Sergeant Phillip Wesley Dunn, and pilot Flight Lieutenant Kenneth Hugh Grenfell.

Sgt. George Edward Lewis on the information panel near the Lancaster crash site in the Netherlands.

Sgt. George Edward Lewis on the information panel near the Lancaster crash site in the Netherlands. - Credit: Melvin Chambers

The Commonwealth War Graves website also states that George Lewis' younger brother, Private Donald Lewis, who was in the Special Air Service Regiment, Army Air Corps, died on service on October 16, 1944.

He was 18 and is buried in the village cemetery in Moussey, France. The inscription on his grave is: "A brave lad died that others could live".

George's parents, Charles William Byron Lewis and Lily Ethel (née Burrill) Lewis, married in 1907. Lily Ethel died in 1964 aged 75, and Charles W B Lewis died four years later, aged 83. 

They are both buried at Brandon Cemetery in Suffolk, along with daughter Grace.

If you can help trace the Lewis family, please contact Freddie Ekkel via the following email address freddieekkel@dorpsarchiefkloosterhaar.com

The Kloosterhaar museum website can be viewed at www.dorpsarchiefkloosterhaar.com