Airman’s family mark Liberation Day in village where he bailed out


Children of a World War Two airman marked Dutch Remembrance Day in the village where their father bailed out 73 years ago.

Jean Bull and her brothers Alan and Adrian Woollard have previously retraced the footstep`s of their father, Lewes-born Sgt Les Woollard, to the frontier village of Den Ham in Holland, where he hid from the occupying German Wehrmacht for 12 days in September 1943.

After an emotional meeting with the Schutmaats, the Dutch farming family who provided shelter for their father during this time, the siblings promised to return to Holland to join in the Dutch Remembrance Day and Liberation Day Celebrations.

Jean, Alan and Adrian arrived in Holland on April 30. They have been exploring the area where their father was during the war on bikes loaned to them for free by a local shopkeeper.

Sgt Woollard had joined the famous Dambusters crew in 1943 for an important mission to bomb the Dortmund-Ems Canal. He was added as an extra crew member for the mission, code named ‘Operation Garlic’.

It was an extremely difficult and dangerous mission requiring the attacking force to fly at 100ft for the whole mission. During the attack, the Lancaster scalped some tree tops causing two engines to fail. Pilot Les Knight was given permission to jettison his bomb and abort the mission. He and the crew knew they could not return back to England in their doomed aircraft. As Knight fought to keep his plane in the air, he gave the order for his crew to save themselves.

All seven crew members bailed out. Knight even managed to steer the plane away from the village, avoiding further loss of life.

On Wednesday, May 4 - Dutch Remembrance Day - St Woollard’s eldest daughter Jean laid a wreath on the grave of pilot Les Knight.

As well as visiting the cemetery, the three siblings looked around a local museum which houses parts of the doomed Lancaster.

They attended the annual Remembrance Day service in the village, where they who introduced to hundreds of people. They also enjoyed a number of private visits to the Schutmaat family.

Dirk Schutmaat previously told the family about the day Sgt Woollard arrived on his family’s farm. He said they felt it was their ‘duty’ for care for him. After hiding in a hay stack and pig sty for 12 days, a local doctor gave Woollard a suit to wear for his escape and he wore a sign on his front with the words ‘Dutch, Deaf and Dumb’. He managed to make it home via France, Spain and Gibraltar.

The Schutmaats buried Sgt Woollard’s RAF uniform until the war was finally over.

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