It was fifteen minutes past midnight on a cold Monday morning, September 7th 1943, a young airman hangs, suspended by his snagged parachute three stories up on the side of a building in a small German forest village. Down below him, a group of angry locals begin to gather. They had all heard the stricken aircraft coming down and crashing in the neighbouring village, but this was an unexpected bonus – catching an enemy airman like this presented the perfect opportunity for retribution.

The small village of Hauenstein lay only 50 kilometres from tonight’s target and the people of this small village had been watching the flashes and hearing the explosions clearly. Hundreds of aircraft were passing over the twin cities of Mannheim-Ludwigshaven before making their turns towards home.

New Zealander, Neil Treacher was badly wounded and bleeding, his parachute caught firmly on the top edge of the white concrete building suspending him three floors high and right onto the sharp corner. Two men were pointing rifles and shouting at him as more villagers began to gather. All he could do was face them quietly with his hands up. He was an easy target and, as the crowd grew and the angry shouts intensified, Neil accepted his fate, knowing that he was very likely about to die.

Tote den hund! Kill the dog!   People were arguing over whether to shoot him now or make it a slower, more humiliating death. Older people and children watched on.

Through the darkness, Neil saw a man in uniform approaching with his pistol drawn, he caught his breath.  “Stand back – this British Terror-Flyer is my prisoner and will be interrogated by the authorities – there will be no killing”, said the village policeman.

“Find Alfons Rohner”, the policeman then called out.

Alfons Rohner was already on his way, he had seen the airman’s descent from his living room window and knew he had to get there fast.

Alfons had been back in Hauestein for a month recuperating from his own injuries after being shot down in a dogfight over the Russian front. Alfons was a fighter ace and well respected by the villagers as one of it’s sons – The Policeman was right to call for him.

Helmut Andelfinger, a boy of 12 had also heard the sound of the stricken bomber as it came down and looked with sleepy eyes from his bedroom window. Before his mother could tell him to stay inside, he was dressed and out the front door. Minutes later, he joined others at the foot of the building and stared up in fascination at the sight of the unfortunate airman. The building was the Hauenstein Shoe factory – in a village of tinkers producing jackboots for the German Army.

Helmut studied this “terror flyer” and the fear on his face. He hoped that Herr Rohner would arrive quickly.

Despite increasing hostilities of the war, there still existed a code of conduct between airmen and luckily for Neil, Alfons was an honourable man. He would do what he could to ensure this prisoner was treated fairly.

Alfons arrived wearing his Luftwaffe tunic and carrying a Luger pistol, he eased past several angry onlookers to join the policeman at the base of the building. Just as he was about to call for a ladder, Alfons spotted two firemen hurriedly approaching carrying their long, extension ladder. The Policeman turned back to face the crowd of angry onlookers, but keeping his pistol pointing downward at his side.

Alfons looked up at the airman, as the ladder arrived. Neil’s uniform was ripped and blackened from fire. He was blood stained from a bullet wound, the tracer round still burning hot, deep in the back of his thigh. Neil was told to keep both hands high in the air “Hande Hocke” which he did while watching the top of the ladder slowly rising up alongside him.

The shouting died down to a hush when the crowd saw that Alfons himself would climb the ladder and approach the airman.

With his hands in the air and a hunting rifle still trained on the airman, Alfons knew he was safe to start his climb. The firemen held the ladder firmly as the German officer climbed the rungs slowly until he was just below Neil.  “You are now my prisoner”, Alfons called out in awkward English “follow my orders and I’ll keep you safe.” Neil nodded in agreement, feeling very relieved that he might, at least for now, stay alive.

Alfons climbed further until they were almost level. He could see that Neil was caught awkwardly and in pain. His right arm was tangled tightly in the parachute cords and his left leg limp and bleeding. Alfons removed a knife from his belt and swung the airman around so that he could grab the ladder below him. He cut through the cords and Neil clung to the ladder until at last he felt his weight on the ladder rung. “Climb down slowly” called out the policeman, now with his pistol raised.

Neil gingerly climbed down using all the strength left in his arms and one good leg – slowly and agonizingly down before collapsing onto the cold concrete of enemy territory.

Once the policeman had searched his new prisoner and was satisfied that he carried no weapon, Alfons came forward and assisted Neil to his feet. Then, to the surprise of the crowd, hoisted the airman awkwardly up onto his back, slowly turned and began to make his way towards the village centre.

The policeman and villagers followed.

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The last flight of EE893 and the saving of Schwanheim

The last flight of EE893 and the saving of Schwanheim

In April 2012, a New Zealand newspaper, The Nelson Mail began running a series of stories about a war-time event including the heroic actions of a local man named Tom Wilkinson. Wilkinson, who hailed from Nelson sacrificed his life attempting to crash land his stricken RAF bomber whilst avoiding the German forest village of Schwanheim at midnight on a September evening in 1943.

As it turned out, three of the seven man crew onboard the Stirling bomber of 75(NZ)Sqn RAF came from the South Island town of Nelson – my father included.

Since the discovery of the crash site in 2011 and under the guidance of German air crash historian, Uwe Benkel, the town of Schwanheim decided to memorialise the historic event in a gesture of reconciliation and appreciation.

It made one heck of a story.

My thanks go to The Nelson Mail’s senior reporter, Tracy Neal.

Pages reproduced with the permission of The Nelson Mail.







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We will remember them.

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E S (Tom) Wilkinson – Pilot RNZAF

E S (Tom) Wilkinson  - Pilot RNZAF

P/O Tom Wilkinson from Brightwater, New Zealand died at the controls attempting to crash land his stricken RAF Stirling bomber. Dad and three others managed to escape the aircraft but Tom remained – he had always told his crew that he would never bale out.
Seen here with his V8 pride and joy shortly before leaving NZ for the war on the other side of the world. 

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Speed up on Stirlings.

An interesting short movie showing how the Stirling heavy bomber was constructed.

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The Garden of Mepal “Forever Fallen” featuring Gita Langley A tribute to the sacrifices made by 75 Squadron.

A tribute to the sacrifices made by 75 Squadron.
Release date 4th of November 2013
10% of Royalties committed to the Mepal Garden fund
10% of Royalties committed to the British Legion Help for Heroes fund.
Written by Gita Langley and Mark Rae
Inspired by the letters between Jean and Jack Bell.
In memory of Jack Bell who along with 55,573 others lost his life serving in RAF Bomber Command during World War 2.

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A full moon tonight.

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The ceremony. Sunday May 13, 2012. Schwanheim, Germany.


It was midday and in twos and threes, the guests arrived at Zum alten Nussbaum or ‘The old walnut tree’, Schwanheim’s own delightfully traditional restaurant. A little awkwardly at first, we made our introductions – descendants of the air crew, from sons and daughters to great nieces, nephews and grandchildren who had travelled from England, France and New Zealand drawn together by an event that occurred just outside this tiny village almost 70 years ago.


Handshakes turned to hugs and early tears were shed by some – all assembled knew that this day would be filled with memories to treasure. Some of the descendants up until very recently hadn’t known that three crew members had actually survived the crash assuming that all onboard were killed.


Our German hosts had spared no detail in their preparation for this day with printed menus and an order of service all bearing the 75(NZ) Sqn RAF insignia. Drinks were poured, treasured photographs and mementos were tabled and shared – stories exchanged and camera shutters clicked. With much conversation, growing familiarity and excitement, we enjoyed our delicious traditional German banquet lunch. The nettle soup, white asparagus and veal were standouts.

Germany 122


Towards 2pm, it was time to leave for the service which was to be held at the actual crash site just outside the village. It would be a relaxing five minute stroll but just before we reached the entrance to the meadow, we were surprised to be halted and ushered into the grounds of the adjacent Schwanheim cemetery where we were told to wait. Much to the embarrassment of our hosts, two members of a neo-Nazi group complete with placards were staging a protest at the site and we were to await their removal by the Polizei before proceeding further. This however, presented the perfect opportunity for us to chat further and take many more photographs before being allowed to continue on our way.

Jannes pix 117

ceremony 7

Jannes pix 112

With a clear blue sky and crisp northerly breeze stirring the fresh forest air, it made for an invigorating walk to the site. None of us were expecting to see a crowd but there they stood, quietly and respectfully awaiting our arrival. When I saw the faces of our new friends Hans Rohner, Helmut Andelfinger and their wives, I had to quickly choke back a tear and gather myself.


Janne and I, together with all the relatives were humbled by the attentiveness of the people gathered – many of whom had travelled from adjoining villages and even some from the Mannheim and Ludwigshafen cities – the very recipient area of EE893’s bomb load. Mannheim sustained heavy civilian losses that night and today, here in Schwanheim, we could feel the hurt – I felt that I needed to say sorry.

ceremony11 Local fireman and researcher, Roland Gotz explains the significance of the piece of armour plate.

The ceremony commenced solemnly with prayers and speeches then moved on to the assembly of the memorial by the descendants of the crew. One by one, we came forward to take part. Varnished wooden plaques were affixed into one side and a large piece of heavy armour plate recovered last year from this site was affixed to the face of the memorial stone. The stone had been carefully selected from a local quarry and sited here for this purpose.

P1190129 German World War 2 air crash historian, Uwe Benkel addresses the crowd.

ceremony24 Sister, Janne Hennah (daughter of Neil Treacher) does her bit to help build the memorial.

Jannes pix 125

Jannes pix 124<

Priests blessed the memorial and many heartfelt speeches were made. The local mayors spoke and a camera crew together with several photographers closely covered the ceremony.


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ceremony23 Beryl Wilkinson, daughter of rear gunner, George Wilkinson and her family.

After his speech, Will Simes, son of navigator, Gordon Simes, was presented with his father’s map case, flying helmet and combat knife by a local man who had “souvenired” the items as a boy and held them all this time. It was very moving. Gordon presented a plaque bearing the details of the crew, the 75(NZ)Squadron crest and a message of thanks to the people of Schwanheim.

Jannes pix 132

ceremony16 Will Simes accepts his father’s map case and combat knife from Herr Funk.


ceremony22 Schwanheim’s Mayor, Herr Herbert Schwarzmueller and Will and Jenny Simes exchange plaques.

Jannes pix 114


When it came my turn to speak, I asked that we remember all those who died and suffered on that September night, so long ago. I thanked the researchers, the assembled dignitaries and all the people who had come out to take part, singling out those who had made our visit so special. Helmut Andelfinger, who as a 12 year old boy saw the burning bomber sweep across his village of Hauenstein and witness my father hanging by his snagged parachute from the corner of a building. And Hans Rohner, son of the brave German fighter pilot who calmed the angry crowd then rescued dad and carried him wounded on his back to receive first aid. Both men had taken time to carefully recount their stories to Janne and I and offer their hospitality to us. At the end of my speech, I finished with the words, “wir sind alle freunde jetzt – und furimmer”. We are all friends now – and forever.

I was asked to deliver in Maori, the introduction of the letter our New Zealand Ambassador to Germany had sent to the people of Schwanheim – A Maori proverb, He Tangata.

“He aha te mea nui?
He tangata.
He tangata.
He tangata.”

“What is the most important thing? It is people, it is people, it is people”

Lorenz 054

Lorenz 053

The cold wind that afternoon would have been hard on many of the elderly there. Some were in tears and many ready to hug and forgive – It was an incredible experience and a memory that I will hold close forever. After perhaps an hour and a half, it was over and slowly the people made their way back to their homes from this breathlessly beautiful meadow amidst wild flowers and the white blossoms of a wild fruit tree – I could not imagine a more beautiful place to meet your demise.

Germany 149 The memorial to the crew of Stirling EE893

From the crash site, the descendants and a number of guests then moved to the village fire station where we were entertained with a documentary prepared by researcher Uwe Benkel and his team. Our story, I understand, is to be included in a television documentary for a German audience and perhaps may even be offered to The History Channel. We were served with a variety of Flammkuchen, a traditional dish much a like pizza and originating in this region (Schwanheim being very close to the French border) and we drank German wines and cold weiss bier. Our glasses were dutifully kept topped up by Schwanheim’s Bürgermeister, the affable, Herbert Schwarzmüller and our attention and conversation were in hot demand by all. We were presented with gifts, photographs and even local wines complete with an artist’s impression of the stricken bomber on the label. We shook hands, we hugged, we kissed, we swapped addresses – we made new friends for life.


I cannot thank the organisers and coordinators of this event enough. For us, it has been a life changing experience. We were humbled by the hospitality we received from the moment we arrived in Schwanheim till our reluctant departure three days later. The amount of effort Uwe Benkel, Roland Götz, Lorenz Steiger and their research team put into uncovering and assembling all the facts surrounding the crash was astounding. The exact flight path from where the Stirling bomber EE893, took off from in England, where they were first sighted and how they approached their target, when it was hit by light flak, where it was hunted as it turned and flew low in it’s bid to make Switzerland and finally where and how it was finished off by Luftwaffe fighter ace, Major Heinrich Wohlers. We now know the order in which some of the crew baled out and how the aircraft avoided the village and attempted a crash landing, clipping tall trees and losing a wing causing it to cartwheel and disintegrate in flames. The facts presented, completed the puzzle I had been piecing together for more than 20 years – they made sense – the story could now be told.

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Never Forgotten


These beautiful images were sent by my good friends in Schwanheim, Germany. Thanks to them, the memory of the demise of RAF bomber EE893 and many of it’s crew on that night in 1943 will never be forgotten.

It was on May 13, 2012 that we gathered at this spectacularly beautiful site to build and consecrate this memorial. A week of poignant yet very happy memories that will stay with me forever.

“Wir sind alle Freunde jetzt und immerdar.”

Schwanheim memorial Dec 2012 2

Thank you:

Roland and Ingrid Gotz

Lorenz and Alvira Steigner

Uwe and Martina Benkel

Hans Rohner

Helmut Andelfinger

Willy Schachter

Herbert Schwarzmuller

and all the good people of Schwanheim and Hauenstein, Germany.

Schwanheim memorial Dec 2012 1

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Social media magic (or – sometimes nice things just happen)

Some pretty cool things have happened to me since getting into social media.
Communicating and engaging with people of all ages and backgrounds from all around the world to express and compare opinions, share news, interests, experiences and emotions – that’s social media.
And friends too – the opportunity to make friends – some real friends.
The coolest thing to happen for me so far though, would have to be this.
Some of you may know that I have quite an interest in my father’s war history. Recently, my sister and I travelled to Germany and spent time in Schwanheim, a small forest village where dad’s plane crashed and many of his crewmates died.
One of my twitter followers, Vaughn Davis, himself a former military pilot and very capable model maker, read about this and decided to do something. Something nice. I think Vaughn does nice things for a lot of people – I think that’s just the kind of guy he is.
In fact, enough with the words. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…

Stirling EE 893


Right down to the markings, a scale model replica of dad’s plane.
One day, when I’m asked, “What one article would I save if my house was on fire?” – here’s the answer.
And thank you very much Vaughn. It’s magic, mate.

Follow @vaughndavis

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