April 13, 11:40 a.m.
Gerrit Gotenck witnessed the crash of Lancaster over Hackfort in 1943
By Sander Grotendorst
VORDEN / WARNSVELD – Gerrit Gotink officially lives in Warnsveld, on the south side of Rondweg om Leesten. “But we are totally focused on Vorden.” On January 9, 1943, he was with his friends near the present roundabout (Rondweg/Vordensweg) when he witnessed the crash of an Allied bomber over the Hackfort manor. He was sixteen years old. The event was still fresh in his mind.
A quick math shows that Gerrit is now 95. He lives with his wife Bertha near their parents’ farm ‘t Nijkamp, where their son Rien now runs a riding school. Gerritt has been a farmer there his whole working life. “I would like you to do it again. This freedom…” “I have diminished a bit in cultivation,” says Son Jan. “I know,” Gerrit says. Jan also lives nearby. He sat at the table with his father and mother, who will be married for seventy years next month. “But we live every day.”
Back to that winter Friday over 77 years ago. Gerrit explains: “What is now called Jong Gelre used to be different associations, one for boys and one for girls. There was a youth association until the age of sixteen and a youth association from sixteen years until marriage, say thirty years. The life of the club continued during the war. We had A meeting in Kerkhofweg, where there is now the De Triangel Building.” That area, Leestense Enk, now almost entirely built-up (“urban,” as Gerrit says), was then an open agricultural area, where the Gotinks also owned the land. At the end of the war there was heavy fighting. We were on the road with some guys. A plane came. Not surprisingly, since the Allies usually fly towards Ruhrgebiet on Friday evenings to drop bombs. You can even see some of this massive fire from here. But this plane did not reach its destination. “We heard ticks, ticks, ticks. A few seconds. The plane began to flash, became lighter, and burned in the sky, above the clouds. We said to each other: What do we do? There is probably a bomb in it. Just to be sure, we stood behind a large oak tree. Then the plane crashed. We didn’t know exactly where it crashed, we later learned it was at Hackfort. The bomb stayed inside.”
“The people on board didn’t stand a chance. The plane had a low speed, otherwise it would have flown a long distance after it hit. It was remarkable that only one plane flew over it that evening. Normally there were more. Did it veer off course and kill the crew?” It was also earlier than usual, around 7:15 in the evening. They usually come around the eleventh hour.” It took a few days before young Gerrit went to see the scene. “You can’t get to it, there were Germans everywhere. It wasn’t clear to me at the time that the plane had collapsed and shattered into shrapnel.”
He only received this information recently, in the course of reviving that fatal evening for the seven crew members. On April 2, a small memorial was unveiled in Kruisdijk, where the seven British and Canadian names are mentioned.
The party was attended by family members. One of them, the Englishman Hugh Stephenson, bears the last name of Maxwell Wilson Stephenson, the co-pilot, who died at the age of 23. His first trip in Lancaster was his last. Gerritt was unable to attend the unveiling ceremony, but was then able to speak to Hugh Stephenson at the Packer Hotel. “It was hard, we didn’t have English in school, which is a shame.” says Gerrit. But son Jan and Vordenar-born Robert Ellenkamp—co-author of a book about the 20 Allies who died at Vorden—worked as interpreters. Jan says. The circle devastated by war has been rounded up again.
In Gerrit, Hugh also found an eyewitness who could still remember many details. Jan: “There seems to be more and more.” His father smiles, “while I forget everything else.” In some ways, Gerrit says, the war became more “live” than it had been in the years immediately following. You can see it in the grief of relatives at the unveiling, almost eighty years later. “At the time, we were very busy rebuilding our existence.”
By the way, Bertha’s brother, Dirk Faustink, visited Canada, and Gerrit and Bertha visited her several times. “We were also in the US, but Canada is nicer. I feel a connection with that country.” Jean: “Children and grandchildren from Canada come here too and every time they want to know more about the ‘war’.”
There is still a lot to say about it. Gerrit’s parents’ farm was in the line of fire in 1945, during the Canadian liberation campaign. The barn was set on fire and the Canadians helped get the cattle out quickly. Gerrit saw little soldiers, actually children, digging trenches. “I spoke to them, there were many Austrians, and among them were also boys from Wiener Sängerknaben.” Not much survived. Relatives and eyewitnesses carry heavy memories with them. “And now,” Gerrit sighs, “now it is time for war again. Incomprehensible. Incomprehensible.